Melvin Lawrence Ember (January 13, 1933 – September 27, 2009) was an American cultural anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher with wide-ranging interests who combined an active research career with writing for nonprofessionals.
Drawn to anthropology after reading the works of Margaret Mead, he attended Columbia University at the young age of 16 where he was further inspired by Elman Service and Morton Fried in the anthropology department (B.A. 1953). He then went on to Yale University to study for his Ph.D. in anthropology (received 1958), primarily under the mentorship of George Peter Murdock.
After a year’s postdoctoral work at Yale, Ember spent four years at the Laboratory of Socio-Environmental Studies at the National Institute of Health (1959–62). He was professor at Antioch College (1963–67) and Hunter College (1967–87). He also chaired the department of anthropology at Hunter College of the City University of New York (1967–73). Here he succeeded in expanding the department significantly, attracting young scholars from major institutions. He also served as executive officer of the City University of New York graduate program in anthropology from 1973 to 1975.
He was president of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research in 1981–82 and in 1982 took over the editorship of Cross-Cultural Research, a position he held until the time of his death. He moved to the New Haven area in 1987 to become president of the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), an institution at Yale whose mission is to foster the comparative study of culture. Under his leadership, he helped revitalize the institution, moving its databases into the digital age.