Memoir

Paul T. Baker

The Pennsylvania State University

February 28, 1927 - November 29, 2007


Election Year: 1980
Scientific Discipline: Anthropology
Membership Type: Member

Paul Thornell Baker was one of the most influential post-World War II biological anthropologists and a pioneer in the field of human adaptation to environmental stress. His early studies of physiological and morphological adaptation to heat, cold, and altitude are landmarks, and this research was followed by studies of health transitions in human populations that are migrant or modernizing. The scientific output from Baker’s projects were substantial, as he developed new comparative methods of population analysis with an emphasis on improving field research designs and on employing some of the tools of the experimental laboratory scientist. But perhaps his greatest contribution is that he helped launch a new scientific field—human population biology—and with his large cadre of graduate students was responsible for its significant growth.

Baker received a B.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1951 and went on to study anthropology at Harvard University, earning his Ph.D. in 1956. During his graduate-school years he also worked for the nearby U.S. Army Climatic Research Laboratory (a part of the Quartermaster Corps), conducting heat-stress and cold-stress research on military personnel stationed in corresponding environments. These studies, which served as the basis for his doctoral dissertation, dealt with how humans respond to extreme environments and structured much of his later work on human variation and population adaptation to environmental stresses. In 1957 Baker obtained a biophysics research position at the Pennsylvania State University, and in 1958 he joined its Department of Sociology and Anthropology. He remained at Penn State until his retirement in 1987, with his work at State College, PA, having been punctuated by extended stays among subject populations—in Peru and American Samoa, for example—and by participation in international research programs and professional associations.

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