Irving Goldman was born September 2, 1911 in Brooklyn, New York to Louis and Golda Goldman, immigrants from Russia. Goldman graduated from Brooklyn College in 1933, and continued from there to Columbia University for graduate work, where he studied under Franz Boas. In 1936, he joined the American Communist Party, but left the party in 1942.
As a graduate student, Goldman conducted research among the Modoc Indians in California (1934) and the Cubeo in the Vaupes region of the Northwest Amazon (1939). For his graduate work at Columbia, he focused on the Ulkatcho Carrier of British Columbia, which he researched from 1935-36. His thesis, "The Alkatcho Carrier of British Columbia" was published in Acculturation in Seven American Indian Tribes (1940). Goldman received his Ph.D. in 1941.
Goldman began World War II as a Research Analyst for the Coordinator of InterAmerican Affairs (1942-43). He was reassigned to the Office of Strategic Services, where he was a 2nd Lieutenant (1943-1945). In 1945 he was transferred to the U.S. Department of State, where he was the Chief of Branch for the Office of Research and Analysis, until he was released in 1947 as a security risk due to his earlier involvement with communism.
Goldman taught at Sarah Lawrence from 1947 until 1981, where he also served on many faculty committees, as well as their Board of Trustees. During this time, Goldman also continued his anthropological research. He spent 1955 in Chiapas, Mexico, studying Tzotzil of Chamula Indians. He also did library research on Polynesia, which led to his book Ancient Polynesian Society (1970), a key work in anthropological thought. During his time at Sarah Lawrence College, Goldman also published two other significant books: The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon (1963) and The Mouth of Heaven: An Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought (1975). In 1968, he returned to the Cubeo, continuing his research there into the early 1980s. His wife, Hannah, who died in 1986, traveled occasionally with him. From 1980 to 1987, Goldman taught at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
During the McCarthy era, in 1953, Goldman was forced to testify before the Jenner Senate Committee, which investigated connections between academics and communism. While Goldman admitted to having been a part of the party, he took his First Amendment right to avoid naming others who he knew had been members. This was a risky and rare tactic; however it had a positive outcome for him, as Sarah Lawrence College, where Goldman was teaching at the time, decided not to fire him since he had spoken his conscious and no more.
Goldman died April 7, 2002. Goldman's peers considered him to have "insightful analyses that were often ahead of his time" (Rubel 2003) and to have had "the courage to tackle big problems in the realm of comparative research." (Rubel 2003) His final manuscript was published posthumously as Cubeo Henewa Religious Thought: Metaphysics of a Northwestern Amazonian People (2004).
Rubel, Paul and Abraham Rosman. 2003. Irving Goldman (1911-2002). American Anthropologist 105:4.
Shenn, Jody. 2002. Remembering Irving Goldman. News and Events at Sarah Lawrence.
Schildkrout, Enid, and Irving Goldman. 1989. A Conversation with Irving Goldman. American Ethnologist 16:3.
Born April 18 in New York, New York.
Earns B.S. from Brooklyn College.
Fieldwork on Modoc Indians, California.
Fieldwork on Ulkatcho Carrier Indians, British Columbia.
First fieldwork on Cubeo Indians, Vaupes, Colombia.
Earns Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Research Analyst on Latin America for the Coordinator of InterAmerican Affairs.
2nd Lieutenant for the Office of Strategic Services.
Chief of Branch for the Office of Research and Analysis for the United States State Department.
Left State Department; began to teach at Sarah Lawrence College.
Investigated by the Jenner Committee for his communist connections.
Fieldwork on Tzotzil of Chamula Indians, Chiapas, Mexico.
Goldman continuously returned to Vaupes, Colombia to study the Cubeo.
Began to teach at the New School for Social Research.
Retired from Sarah Lawrence College.
Retired from the New School for Social Research.
Died April 7, 2002 in Brooklyn, New York.