Photo of Melvyn Goldstein posing next to a computer screen with the webpage for the Center for Research on Tibet pulled up

Preeminent Tibet scholar Melvyn Goldstein receives Distinguished University Professorship

Melvyn C. Goldstein, the John Reynolds Harkness Professor of Anthropology and co-director of the Center for Research on Tibet at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), is widely considered to be the world’s leading scholar of Tibet in anthropology. He is the first Western anthropologist to conduct empirically based research with Tibetans in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and his election to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 is just one of many measures of his stature as a leading anthropologist on the international stage. 

For his pioneering research; his influential intellectual and academic contributions; his excellence as a teacher and mentor; his sustained leadership in the Department of Anthropology; and his ability to command research funds from the world’s top organizations, Goldstein will be honored as a Distinguished University Professor during fall convocation tomorrow, Aug. 26 (tune into a livestream of the event).

Goldstein, who holds the nation’s first doctorate in Tibetan anthropology, joined the Case Western Reserve faculty in 1968. He chaired the anthropology department from 1975 to 2002 and launched the university’s renowned Center for Research on Tibet in the mid-1980s. Its website receives hundreds of visitors every month.

A prolific author, Goldstein’s four-volume series on the history of modern Tibet has been praised, analyzed and cited by scholars around the world. The most recent installation, A History of Modern Tibet, Volume 4: In the Eye of the Storm, 1957-59, was published in 2019. Goldstein also is recognized internationally for his English-Tibetan and Tibetan-English dictionaries.

As a consequence of his long-term interest in issues of global aging, Goldstein also founded the Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology with colleagues Cynthia M. Beall and Charlotte Ikels, and remained co-editor with them for a decade.

In 2012, Goldstein’s colleagues recognized his scholarship, teaching and service with the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize. He is revered by undergraduate and graduate students of anthropology, who seek him out as a teacher and mentor. Students come to Case Western Reserve from around the world, including Tibet, China and Mongolia, to learn from him.

“In addition to his expertise on Tibet, it was Professor Goldstein’s vision that shaped the CWRU Department of Anthropology into a leader in the field of medical anthropology,” said Department of Anthropology Chair Janet McGrath. “His continued love of fieldwork and new projects is infectious and his depth of interests and knowledge is impressive. Our conversations are enlightening, fun, and never short!”

According to McGrath, Goldstein has led the way in creating digital access to ethnographic and linguistic data that never would have been accessible in the past. Through his Tibetan Oral History Archive Project, in collaboration with the Asian Division of the Library of Congress, users can listen to the 1,500 original recorded tapes that were collected by a team led by Goldstein from 850 Tibetan historical figures and everyday people, and simultaneously read English transcripts of the interviews edited by Goldstein.

Goldstein is the recipient of numerous grants from diverse sources—a testament to his expertise and broad research interests. He has received federal funding from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute on Aging, as well as private foundations such as the National Geographic Society, the Henry Luce Foundation and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Goldstein said the award was “totally unexpected” and that he is deeply honored to join the ranks of the exceptional scholars and teachers who comprise CWRU’s corps of Distinguished University Professors.

“Receiving this honor was especially meaningful for me because it came from my own university which, over many decades, had played an extremely important role in supporting my research and helping me to grow and develop as a scholar and educator,” he shared.