Stewart Culin

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Stewart Culin
Stewart Culin, c. 1920
Born Robert Stewart Culin
(1858-07-13)July 13, 1858
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died April 8, 1929(1929-04-08) (aged 70)
Amityville, New York
Occupation Ethnographer

Stewart Culin (July 13, 1858 – April 8, 1929) was an American ethnographer and author interested in games, art and dress.[1] Culin played a major role in the development of ethnography, first concentrating his efforts on studying the Asian-Americans workers in Philadelphia. His first published work was "Practitioners of Chinese medicine in America", dated 1887. He believed that similarity in gaming demonstrated similarity and contact among cultures across the world.

Early life[edit]

Born Robert Stewart Culin, a son of Mina Barrett Daniel Culin and John Culin, in Philadelphia, Culin was schooled at Nazareth Hall.[1] While he had no formal education in anthropology, Culin played a role in the development of the field. His interest began with the Asian-American population of Philadelphia, then composed chiefly of Chinese-American laborers.

His first published work was an 1887 article entitled "The Practice of Medicine by the Chinese in America". In 1889 Culin published a report about Chinese games, an 1890 article about Italian marionettes was inspired by a visit to a marionette theater in New York.

World of games[edit]

Active in several ethnographic organizations during the late 1880s, Culin became involved with the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago during 1893. As an assistant curator, Culin organized several game-related exhibitions. In addition, 1891 saw the publication of two papers. The first treated the street games of city boys, the second dealt with Chinese gambling games, providing explanations on Fan-Tan and Pak Kop Pin. At the World Exposition, Culin met Frank Hamilton Cushing. The two became friends and endeavored to create the first cumulative documentation on the world's games.

In 1892 Culin became Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology.[1] Married on March 18, 1893 to Helen Bunker, Culin published on the games exhibit at the 1891 Chicago exposition. In 1899 he became curator at the Free Museum of Science and Arts in Philadelphia on American and general ethnology.[1]

Korean Games, with comparisons to those of other Asian cultures, were the topic of Culin's first book, published in 1895. This work was inspired by Cushing, then of the Bureau of American Ethnology of Washington. Culin became interested in chess and card games and published a paper on the topic in 1886. He worked with Cushing on an article called Arrow games and their variants in America and the Orient. When Cushing became ill, Culin continued the work and eventually published three inter-related papers: American Indian Games (1898), Hawaiian Games (1899) and Philippine Games (1900). After Cushing's death in 1900, Culin published a revised version of American Indian Games in 1903.

Brooklyn Museum[edit]

In 1903 Culin resigned from the University of Pennsylvania and became curator of Ethnology at the Institute of Arts and Sciences of the Brooklyn Museum in New York. He began a series of collection expeditions to study Native Americans in the Southwest and California. Culin accumulated a large body of artifacts in the course of his career. Meticulous in their description, Culin captured "the maker, use of the object, social position of the seller, the circumstances of purchase, the provenance". He also exchanged letters with Franz Boas and George Amos Dorsey. In 1907 Culin unified his 14 years of theories and ideas in the seminal work Games of North American Indians, using the categories games of skill and games of chance to organize the work.

After 1907, Culin became interested in decorative art such as costume, fashion, and furniture. Working with Women's Wear magazine, he displayed contemporary fashion, changed museum rooms and created traveling exhibits to exhibit textiles and foster the study of design. As a curator at the Brooklyn Museum, Culin was instrumental in opening exhibits on the major cultures of the world. In the midst of a number of collecting expeditions to Africa, China, Japan and Europe, Culin married Alice Mumford Roberts in 1917.

In the 1920s Culin made several collecting expeditions to Europe and published on Asian games, African games and European dress. Well known in the worlds of anthropology, ethnography and the fashion industry, Culin died in 1929 in Amityville, Long Island, New York.


  • (1889). Chinese Games with Dice. Philadelphia: Oriental Club of Philadelphia. 21pp.[2]
  • (1890 March). Italian Marionettes. Journal of American Folklore, 155-157.
  • (1891). Gambling Games of the Chinese in America. University of Pennsylvania Series in Philology, Literature and Archaeology 1 (4). 17pp.[3]
  • (1891). Street Games of Boys in Brooklyn. Journal of American Folklore 4, 221-237.[4]
  • (1893). Chinese Games with Dice and Dominoes. Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum 1893, 491-537[5]
  • (1893). Exhibition of Games in the Columbian Exposition. Journal of American Folklore vol. 6, no. 22, 205-227.
  • (1894). Mancala, the National Game of Africa. Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum 1894, 597-606[6]
  • (1896). Chess and Playing-Cards. Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum 1896, 665-942.
  • (1898 October). American Indian Games. Journal of American Folklore, 245-252.[7]
  • (1899). Hawaiian Games. American Anthropologist (ns) 1 (2), 201-247.
  • (1900). Philippine Games. American Anthropologist (ns) 2, 643-656.[8]
  • (1903). American Indian Games. American Anthropologist (ns) 5, 58-64.
  • (1920 October). Japanese Game of Sugoroku. Brooklyn Museum Quarterly 7, 213-233.
  • (1924 October). Game of Ma-Jong. Brooklyn Museum Quarterly 11, 153-168.[9]
  • (1925 July). Japanese Swinging Bat Game (paper). Brooklyn Museum Quarterly 12, 133-150.
  • (1925 July). Japanese Game of Battledore and Shuttlecock. Brooklyn Museum Quarterly 12, 133-150.


  • Culin, Stewart; University of Pennsylvania Press(1895). Korean Games With Notes on the Corresponding Games of China and Japan. (Ed. 1958/1960) Games of The Orient. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company. 177 pages. (Ed. 1991) Korean Games With Notes on the Corresponding Games of China and Japan. Dover Publications. 256 pp. ISBN 0-486-26593-5.
  • Culin, Stewart (1907). 24th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology: Games of North American Indians. Washington DC: US gov Printing Office. 846 pp. (rev. ed. 1975 ) Dover Publications. 867 pp. ISBN 0-486-23125-9. (1994) University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-6357-0


  • Bronner Simon J. (1985)"Stewart Culin, Museum Magician." Pennsylvania Heritage 11, no. 3 (Summer), 4-11
  • Bronner Simon J. (1989) Object Lessons: The Work of Ethnological Museums and Collections, in Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880-1920, ed. Simon J. Bronner, 217-254. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Lawrence, Deirdre E. (1989 July). Culin: Collector and Documentor of the World he saw

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d David Shavit (1990). The United States in Asia: A Historical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-313-26788-8. Retrieved 20 August 2012. 
  2. ^ "Chinese Games With Dice". 2010-01-29. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  3. ^ "Gambling Games of the Chinese in America". 2010-01-29. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  4. ^ "Street Games". 2010-01-30. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  5. ^ "Chinese Games With Dice and Dominoes". 2010-01-31. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  6. ^ "Mancala, The National Game of Africa". 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  7. ^ "American Indian Games". 2010-01-29. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  8. ^ "Philippine Games". 2010-01-30. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  9. ^ "The Game of Ma-Jong". 2010-01-30. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 

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