Hildred S. Geertz

Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus.

Ph.D. Radcliffe 1956


Hildred Storey Geertz, who specialized in the study of social organization in relation to theory of culture and in the anthropology of art, joined Princeton’s faculty in 1971 and transferred to emeritus status in 1998. She was the University’s first female department chair and third female tenured professor.

Geertz spent her career steeped in the pursuit of understanding cultures in Java, Morocco and Bali. She focused her study on the interconnections between different Balinese art forms and how and why such forms have changed through time, as well as the effects of economic development and tourism on Balinese artistic endeavor.

Known for her exceptional scholarship and teaching, she also added a dash of humor to the administrative side of her time at Princeton. Serving as department chair from 1973 to 1978, and as acting chair from 1987 to 1988, she once compared the job to raising male ducks: “You get only squawks and no eggs.”

Born in Queens, New York, on Feb. 12, 1927, Geertz grew up there and in Teaneck, New Jersey. She earned her bachelor’s at Antioch College in 1948 and her Ph.D. in social anthropology from Radcliffe College in 1956. She first became associated with Java — the first site of her pioneering ethnographic research — when offered a fellowship in her first year of graduate school.

Her field research there in 1952–54 resulted in the book “The Javanese Family” (1961, still in print and widely read in Indonesia). This research — which combined social observation, producing oral histories, studying documents and pursuing an exhaustive knowledge of the scholarly literature on the island of Bali — continued at intervals for several decades until 1995.

In conjunction with the publishing of “Images of Power,” Geertz curated an exhibition of the same name, which traveled from the American Museum of Natural History in New York to museums in Australia and Japan, as well as to the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and the Middlebury College Museum of Art in Middlebury, Vermont.

She also worked in Morocco in the 1960s and coauthored “Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society: Three Essays in Cultural Analysis” (1979), with Clifford Geertz and Lawrence Rosen, now the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at Princeton.

At Princeton, Geertz taught courses in the history of anthropological theory, the anthropological study of life stories, the anthropology of art, the ethnographer’s craft, social theory and fieldwork methods. Many of her graduate students have gone on to pursue significant careers in the field.

Click here to read Hildred Storey Geertz's Memorial.