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Paul Kirchhoff (17 August 1900, Halle, Province of Westphalia – 9 December 1972) was a German-Mexican anthropologist, most noted for his seminal work in defining and elaborating the culture area of Mesoamerica, a term he coined.

Paul Kirchhoff was born in the German locality of Hörste, in the region of Westphalia. He commenced his undergraduate studies in Protestant theology and comparative religion at the University of Berlin, moving later to Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg. In the mid-1920s he undertook further studies at the University of Leipzig in ethnology and psychology, where he first developed his abiding interest in the indigenous cultures of the Americas.[1] completing his studies in 1927.[2]

He was the co-founder of Mexico's National School of Anthropology and History in 1938, and held a research position at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Kirchhoff was instrumental in defining the concept of Mesoamerica, a cultural region sharing a number of common characteristics throughout most of pre-Columbian history, geographically defined as central and southern Mexico and northern Central America.

Also, Kirchhoff was a left communist who was a militant of a group called the Grupo de Trabajadores in Mexico. Kirchoff had formerly been a member of the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD) and then formed an opposition tendency within the Revolutionary Workers League (Oehlerite) in the USA which went on to join the American Fraction of the International Communist Left.

He died in Mexico City in 1972.


  1. ^ Reisse (1991), see also citation in Gray (2006)
  2. ^ Biblioteca Paul Kirchhoff (n.d.) names only his studies in Berlin ("Estudió filosofía y letras en la Universidad de Berlín, especializándose en etnología americana (1927)"), although Reisse details his attendance at the other institutions mentioned for his degrees.


  • Biblioteca Paul Kirchhoff (n.d.). "Paul Kirchhoff" (in Spanish). Programa de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias sobre Mesoamérica y el Sureste (PROIMMSE), UNAM. Archived from the original on 2012-04-07. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
  • Gaillard, Gérald (2004). The Routledge Dictionary of Anthropologists. Peter James Bowman (trans.) (English translation of Dictionnaire des ethnologues et des anthropologues [1997] ed.). London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22825-5. OCLC 52288643.
  • Gray, Geoffrey (2006). ""The ANRC has Withdrawn its Offer": Paul Kirchhoff, Academic Freedom and the Australian Academic Establishment". Australian Journal of Politics & History. 52 (3): 362–377. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8497.2006.00424.x.;
  • Gray, Geoffrey (2009). Regna Darnell; Frederic W. Gleach (eds.). ""Not allowed to stay and unable to leave": Paul Kirchhoff's Quest for a Safe Haven, 1931-1941". Histories of Anthropology Annual. 5: 166–181.
  • Reisse, Frauke Johanna (1991). "Paul Kirchhoff (1900-1972)". In Christopher Winters (ed.). International Dictionary of Anthropologists. New York: Garland. pp. 348–349. ISBN 0-8240-5094-0. OCLC 23462648.
  • Carrasco, Pedro (n.d.). "Paul Kirchoff". Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerica.

External linksEdit

  • Brief biography, Programa de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias sobre Mesoamérica y el Sureste (PROIMMSE) (in Spanish)