William J. Smole, Ph.D.

Academic and Career Accomplishments

William J. Smole, a cultural geographer, was born in Akron, Ohio. He attended his first two years and his last three years of public school at Ravenna Township. Graduating in 1949, he was class president and valedictorian. He earned his B.S. degree at Kent State University. As president of Phi Alpha Theta, he was Kent’s delegate to the national convention in Puerto Rico. After earning an M.A. at the University of Chicago, he spent a year in Spain at the University of Madrid and did field studies in different parts of the country. Two of these were presented as papers at the Ohio Academy of Science. In 1963, Dr. Smole earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. His dissertation and first book are based on two years of research as a Fulbright Scholar in Chile. They contributed to the understanding of the family farm in Spanish America, an area then notorious for huge estates and landless peasantries. For six months in 1966, he was Senior Fulbright Advisor on Geography Programs in Colombia. He was a visiting professor at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas when his second book was published by the University of Texas Press in 1976. This book examines the cultural geography of the Yanomami, one of the most isolated native populations of Amazonia. Dr. Smole has challenged the prevailing view of the Yanomami as particularly fierce. Subsequently, he published his somewhat controversial theory that their staple food, the plantain, (cooking banana) has been present in America since pre-Columbian times. Because of his reputation as a Yanomami Scholar, he has frequently been asked to speak about his research. Particularly noteworthy are the invitations to participate in conferences at Columbia (1978) and Stanford (1998) Universities. For many years, he authored the articles on Venezuela and Colombia that appeared in The World Book Encyclopedia. Dr. Smole taught at the University of Pittsburgh from 1964 until his retirement in 1996. Currently, he is a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.

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