Sir James George Frazer

Biography of Sir James George Frazer

Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941) is considered one of the founding fathers of modern anthropology. He graduated MA in 1874 and was given and Honorary Doctor of Laws in 1895.

Born in Glasgow, the eldest of four children of Daniel Frazer, senior partner in pharmaceutical chemists Frazer and Green, he was educated in Helensburgh and came to the University in 1869, graduating MA in 1874. Thereafter he attended Trinity College, Cambridge where he was placed second in the first class of the classical tripos. In 1879, on the strength of an essay on Platonic epistemology, he was elected to a Trinity College fellowship. In 1882 he was called to the bar in the Middle Temple, but he never practised.

In 1888 Frazer was commissioned by his friend William Robertson Smith to produce articles on ‘Taboo’ and ‘Totemism’ for the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. At that time he was also working on the first edition of his most influential work, The Golden Bough (2 vols., 1890; 2nd edn, 3 vols., 1900; 3rd edn, 12 vols., 1911–14).

In 1908 Frazer was appointed to Liverpool’s chair of Social Anthropology – the first such chair in Britain. Among his many honours he was knighted in 1914. The Sir James George Frazer Memorial Lectureship in Social Anthropology was established in 1921 to commemorate his contributions to the field. It is delivered in rotation at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Despite going blind in 1931, Frazer kept working in Cambridge until his death on 7 May 1941. He is buried in St Giles’s cemetery in Cambridge.


Sir James George Frazer
Born 1 January 1854.
Died 7 May 1941.
University Link: Graduate, Honorary Graduate, Memorialised
GU Degrees: MA, 1874; LLD, 1895;
Occupation categories: classical scholars; social anthropologists
NNAF Reference: F37597
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Record last updated: 7th Sep 2015

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