Melville Jean Herskovits (September 10, 1895 - February 25, 1963) was a U.S. anthropologist born in Bellefontaine, Ohio who firmly established African and African American studies in American academia. He received his PhD in Anthropology from Colombia University in New York under the guidance of the great German-American anthropologist Franz Boas. In 1948 he founded the first major interdisciplinary American program in African studies at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
Herskovits's controversial classic The Myth of the Negro Past is about African cultural influences on American blacks. He also helped forge the concept of cultural relativism, particularly in his book Man and His Works.
Melville Herskovits's position formed one half of the debate with Franklin Frazier on the nature of cultural contact in the Western Hemisphere, specifically with reference to Africans, Europeans, and their descendents.
After World War II, Herskovits publicly advocated African independence and also attacked American politicians for viewing Africa as an object of Cold War strategy.
Herskovits died in Evanston.
The Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University, established in 1954, is the largest separate collection of Africana in the world.