The German-Austrian Cultural Historical School argues that culture has spread in a historical way. This school was founded by F. Graebner and E. Foy, who published their research articles in the Austrian journal Anthropos, under the leadership of Pater W. Schmidt and his associates, W. Koppers and M. Gusinde.
The school has become one of the leading schools of anthropological thought in the continent of Europe, but has never achieved any degree of acceptance in the English-speaking anthropological circles.
The point of view of the German-Austrian school is quite sophisticated. “Its carefully drawn criteria for judging the value of assumed borrowings, its insistence on caution in the use of source materials, the care with which its definitions are drawn and the wealth of its documentation is fully in accord with the demands of scholarship.” For these reasons, this school received wide acceptance.
The culture historical theory is based on a mystical view of nature of life and human experience. It employs a terminology which differs fundamentally from rationality. It uses a vocabulary of common anthropological thought.
Schmidt, methodologically, divides all cultures and explains their identity through diffusion. “Like all ethnographers Schmidt recognizes the need to understand the meaning of primitive life to those who live it and, more importantly, to those who in past ages lived it.
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This we do, he tells us, by recourse to the psychological principle of empathy, whereby one projects himself into the psychic state of the person with whom he is in relation.”
Graebner is another scholar belonging to this school. He has adopted a methodology to study culture growth by which he argues that historically the cultural traits have diffused from one culture to another.
The cultural historical school, quite like the pan-Egyptian school, has also been criticized. It is alleged that the school has employed a mystical approach to the fundamentals of human cultural experiences.
Its hypothesis is extremely untenable. However, the criteria for assessing culture contacts make the contributions to the school quite significant. Besides, the school laid an emphasis on diffusion.
It was a healthy reaction to the earlier evolution and sociological approaches to the study of culture. It should also be said that Graebner, Schmidt and Koppers carried out rich field studies.