Igor Kopytoff, 83, Penn anthropologist

Posted: August 24, 2013

Igor Kopytoff, 83, a University of Pennsylvania anthropology professor who traveled the world before settling in Philadelphia to live for most of his life, died Friday, Aug. 9, from complications related to Parkinson's disease at Hahnemann University Hospital.

Mr. Kopytoff was born in 1930 after his Russian parents fled to China to escape the Russian Revolution, said his daughter, Larissa Kopytoff. He and his brother were raised mostly in Shanghai, and through schooling, he learned to speak English and French but never Chinese, because he lived in a community of Russian refugees.

When he was 18, his family left China and lived in Chile and British East Africa before moving to Evanston, Ill. Mr. Kopytoff enrolled at Northwestern University, where he studied anthropology, then earned a master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania before returning to Northwestern for his Ph.D.

While at Penn, Mr. Kopytoff met his future wife, Barbara Klamon, a graduate student in anthropology. The two were married for almost 32 years before her death in 1999.

Mr. Kopytoff's upbringing left him without an official homeland for many years. Because his parents were displaced Russians, he could claim neither Russian nor Chinese citizenship, and he had no citizenship anywhere until he became a U.S. citizen at 27.

"He definitely didn't take that for granted," Larissa Kopytoff said.

Mr. Kopytoff's work focused on transformations in social structures, political organizations, and religions. He conducted research all over the world, and moved his family to France, England, Canada, and Belgium in the 1960s. After earning his doctorate, Mr. Kopytoff and his wife settled in West Philadelphia, where he became a professor.

Larissa Kopytoff grew up in a household that emphasized reading and learning, and she remembers taking long walks around University City with her father.

"He wouldn't have predicted that he would live in the same city for 50 years, but he was very attached to Philadelphia," she said.

Mr. Kopytoff is survived by his daughter. A memorial service will be held at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology later this year.


Contact Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or asteele@phillynews.com.

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