Michael Herzfeld was educated at the Universities of Cambridge (B.A. in Archaeology and Anthropology, 1969), Athens (non-degree program in Greek Folklore, 1969-70), Birmingham (M.A., Modern Greek Studies, 1972; D.Litt., 1989); and Oxford (Social Anthropology, D.Phil., 1976). Before moving to Harvard, he taught at Vassar College (1978-80) and Indiana University (1980-91) (where he served as Associate Chair of the Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies, 1980-85, and as Chair of the Department of Anthropology, 1987-90). Lord Simon Visiting Professor at the University of Manchester in 1994, he has also taught at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (1995), Paris, at the Università di Padova (1992), the Università di Roma “La Sapienza” (1999-2000), and the University of Melbourne (intermittently since 2004), and has held a visiting research appointments at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney (1985), at the University of Adelaide, and at the Université de Paris-X (Nanterre) (1991).
Major lectures include the inaugural Distinguished Lecture in European Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1996), the Munro Lecture at the University of Edinburgh (1997), the Journal of Anthropological Research Distinguished Lecture at the University of New Mexico (2001), the Einaudi Lecture at Cornell University (2004), the keynote address to the Association of Social Anthropologists of the British Commonwealth (2008), three lectures hosted by the Korea Research Foundation (2009), the Kimon Friar Lecture (Deree College, Athens, 2009), and the Eilert Sundt Lecture (University of Oslo, 2009).
His D.Litt. was awarded for a series of publications, including books and articles, that have set out his understanding of the processes at work in cultural identity construction in modern Greece.
A past president of both the Modern Greek Studies Association and the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, he was editor of American Ethnologist during 1994-98 and is now Editor at Large with specific responsibility for the feature "Polyglot Perspectives" in Anthropological Quarterly; he serves on numerous other editorial boards and is currently co-editor of “New Anthropologies of Europe” (Indiana University Press).
In addition to numerous articles and reviews, he has authored the following books: Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology, and the Making of Modern Greece (1982), The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Identity in a Cretan Mountain Village, Anthropology through the Looking-Glass: Critical Ethnography in the Margins of Europe (1987), A Place in History: Social and Monumental Time in a Cretan Town (1991), The Social Production of Indifference: The Symbolic Roots of Western Bureaucracy (1992), Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State (1997; a second, revised edition has just been released ), Portrait of a Greek Imagination: An Ethnographic Biography of Andreas Nenedakis (1997), Anthropology: Theoretical Practice in Culture and Society (2001), The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value (2004), and Evicted from Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome (2009). Several of his books have appeared, or are scheduled to appear, in other languages (Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Serbian, Croatian, Polish, and Chinese; a chapter of another has appeared in Japanese). He also filmed and produced Monti Moments: Men's Memories in the Heart of Rome (2007).
Herzfeld's field research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the Spencer Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He was a cowinner of the Chicago Folklore Prize for 1981. He has also been awarded the J.B. Donne Prize on the Anthropology of Art (1989) and the Rivers Memorial Medal (1994) (both by the Royal Anthropological Institute, London), and the J.I. Staley Prize (by the School of American Research, 1994). In 1997 Herzfeld was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
His current research activity includes completion of a book and a film about historic conservation and eviction in Bangkok and planned new research on Italin-Chinese interactions in Rome and on the profession of town planning in Italy and elsewhere.