About Us

Overview and History

The Comitas Institute for Anthropological Research (CIFAS) was established in 2002 by Professor Lambros Comitas of Teachers College, Columbia University.  During more than 30 years prior to that date, Lambros had been Director of the Research Institute for the Study of Man (RISM) in New York City.   RISM, which had assembled a unique collection of publications and research materials on the societies and cultures of the Caribbean, closed down its operations in 2002 and transferred its library to New York University.

Photo by: Lambros Comitas, PhD

Lambros envisioned CIFAS as a successor organization to RISM.  He hoped that it would sustain the tradition of scholarship, in-depth ethnographic research, and relevance to critical issues in contemporary society that were hallmarks of the work he undertook with his colleagues at RISM. Over a career spanning seven decades, his field research included work in Jamaica, Barbados, Bolivia, Spain, Andorra, Greece, the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union.  In the field, his research approach combined charm, empathy, and curiosity in ways, to quote one of his PhD students, that “made him equally credible and compatible with aristocrats and Rastafarians”.

Until his death at age 92 in March 2020, working informally and using modest funds, Lambros supervised graduate students in the Teachers College Applied Anthropology Program who organized research materials from his own work and that of his close professional colleague and friend, Dr. M.G. Smith.  They digitized a wide range of field notes and published materials, along with a trove of more than 40,000 photographs and videos of interviews with informants at many different field sites.  Many of these materials were posted on an earlier version of the CIFAS website which this one has now replaced.

After Lambros’ passing, the task of formalizing and sustaining CIFAS rests with a committed Board of Directors whose professional and academic careers were inspired by his teaching and mentoring.  His legacy includes a bequest from the estate of Lambros and his wife Irene that is now invested in an endowment fund.  Income from this fund will allow CIFAS to pursue a vision that expresses the purpose and relevance of his life’s work, and to focus our mission on activities that he championed throughout his distinguished career.  

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