John V. Murra, Cornell professor emeritus of anthropology, died at his Ithaca home Oct. 16. He was 90.
Murra, whose pioneering research on the Incas transformed historical understanding of pre- and post-Columbian Andean social systems, was a member of the Cornell faculty from 1968 to 1982.
Murra specialized in ethnology and ethnohistory and committed much of his academic career to building research institutions in Andean countries. Among Murra's influential published works, often written in Spanish: "The Economic Organization of the Inka State" (1956, 1980); "Cloth and Its Functions in the Inca State" (1962); "Current Research and Prospects in Andean Ethnohistory" (1970), and a series of articles from the late 1960s and early 1970s explicating the model of "vertical archipelagos," a structure of Andean trade and one of the contributions Murra is best known for today.
He was born Isak Lipschitz, in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1916. He changed his named to John Victor Murra after emigrating to the United States in 1934. In 1936, Murra received a B.A. in sociology from the University of Chicago.
He volunteered to fight with the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War and was wounded twice in fighting on the Aragón and Ebro fronts from 1937 to 1939. Murra then returned to the United States and the University of Chicago, where he received an M.A. (1942) and Ph.D. (1956) in anthropology. He became a U.S. citizen in 1950.
Prior to coming to Cornell, Murra held faculty positions at the University of Chicago, University of Puerto Rico, Vassar College, Yale University and at the Smithsonian Institution, where he was principal investigator and director of the Institute of Andean Research doing research funded by the National Science Foundation. He later became president of the Institute for Andean Research in New York City, and he served as president of the American Ethnological Society, the oldest anthropological society in the United States.
He leaves no immediate family members.