George William Skinner
Born(1925-02-14)February 14, 1925
DiedOctober 26, 2008(2008-10-26) (aged 83)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma mater
Known forPhysiographic macroregions of China
SpouseSusan L. Mann
Scientific career
  • Anthropology of China
  • Anthropology of Southeast Asia (especially Overseas Chinese, Indonesia and Thailand)
Doctoral advisorLauriston Sharp
Doctoral studentsNorma Diamond, P. Steven Sangren

George William Skinner (simplified Chinese: 施坚雅; traditional Chinese: 施堅雅; February 14, 1925 – October 26, 2008) was an American anthropologist and scholar of China.[1][2][3] Skinner was a proponent of the spatial approach to Chinese history, as explained in his Presidential Address to the Association for Asian Studies in 1984.[4] He often referred to his approach as "regional analysis," and taught the use of maps as a key class of data in ethnography.

Early life

Skinner was born on February 14, 1925, in Oakland, California. His father, John James Skinner, was a pharmacologist and his mother, Eunice Engle Skinner, taught music and became the director of music education for the Berkeley school system; his sister, Jane Skinner Hardester, became a noted choral conductor. Skinner spent two years at Deep Springs College, a small college founded to educate small cohorts of young men into the life of the mind in a self-sufficient, disciplined manner. After Deep Springs, he joined the Navy V-12 Program in 1943, then attended the U.S. Navy Oriental Language School for 18 months at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he studied Chinese. In 1946, Skinner headed for Cornell University to complete his B.A. degree. He graduated in the following year with his B.A. (with distinction) in Far Eastern Studies, and remained there for his Ph.D. in anthropology (1954) under the supervision of Lauriston Sharp.

Academic career

Skinner's first job was as instructor in sociology at Cornell in 1949. Late in that year he flew to Chengdu, in China's Sichuan province, to conduct doctoral dissertation research on the structure of markets in the Chengdu Plain. Skinner's research was cut short by the arrival of the People's Liberation Army, which confiscated his notes, but the experience became the basis of his later work on spatial modelling. A copy of his field notes on village life in and around Gaodianzi and pre-revolution Chengdu were later discovered and published in 2017 as Rural China on the Eve of Revolution: Sichuan Fieldnotes, 1949–1950. Skinner proceeded to Bangkok, Thailand, where he researched a substitute doctoral topic, the social structure of the Chinese community in Thailand. This research was published in his first two books, Chinese Society in Thailand (1957) and Leadership and Power in the Chinese Community of Thailand (1958) [5]

Between 1951 and 1955, he was field director of the Cornell Southeast Asia Program, then a research associate at Cornell. He became assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University in 1958. Two years later, Skinner was hired back at Cornell as associate professor and then promoted to full professor in 1962 — an unusually fast track to that status. In 1965, he left for Stanford University, moving again in 1990 to the University of California, Davis, which had hired his wife, China historian Susan L. Mann. Skinner retired from teaching in 2005 but maintained an active research program until his death three years later.[6]


Perhaps his best-known influence on Chinese Studies was his delineation of the Physiographic macroregions of China.[7][8] In later years he was instrumental in the establishment of the China Historical Geographic Information Systems project at Harvard and Fudan Universities.[9] His papers and maps are archived in the library collections of Harvard,[10] Cornell,[11] the University of Washington,[12] and Fudan University.


Books and monographs

Articles and book chapters


  1. ^ E.A. Hammel (2009) "George William Skinner, a biographical memoir." National Academy of Sciences. [1] Archived 2011-06-07 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Verdery, Katherine; Smith, Carol A. (September 2009). "George William Skinner (1925–2008)". American Anthropologist. 111 (3): 398–401. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2009.01148_1.x.
  3. ^ Yu, Shuenn-Der Yu (2010). "In Memory of G. William Skinner: His Contributions to Anthropology". Taiwan Journal of Anthropology. 8 (1): 3–14. Archived from the original on 2017-02-18. Retrieved 2016-08-09.
  4. ^ Skinner, G. William (February 1985). "Presidential Address: The Structure of Chinese History". The Journal of Asian Studies. 44 (2): 271–292. doi:10.2307/2055923. JSTOR 2055923.
  5. ^ Harrell (2009), p. 454.
  6. ^ Verdery & Smith (2009).
  7. ^ G.W. Skinner (ed.) (1977) "The City in Late Imperial China." Stanford University Press.
  8. ^ G.W. Skinner (1964–65). "Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China." Association for Asian Studies. [2] Archived 2011-07-25 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "CHGIS Project". Archived from the original on 2008-09-29. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  10. ^ "Skinner Regional Systems Analysis Dataverse". Archived from the original on 2020-05-08. Retrieved 2020-06-01.
  11. ^ "Guide to the G. William Skinner Papers". Archived from the original on 2011-04-23. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  12. ^ "G. William Skinner Map Collection". Archived from the original on 2011-04-06. Retrieved 2011-03-22.