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Richard Christian Thurnwald papers

Call Number: MS 494

Scope and Contents

The Thurnwald Collection extends from 1895 to 1936, with the bulk of the material covering the years from 1931 to 1933. Dr. Richard Christian Thurnwald, anthropologist and sociologist, (LLD) was born in Vienna on September 18, 1869. He received his education at the Universities of Vienna and Berlin.

Thurnwald was an outstanding scholar in his field, as the rather numerous memberships offered him by the various institutes and societies and the professorships at different universities illustrates. From 1905 to 1915 he was a member of the staff of the Berlin Museum of Ethnology; from 1919 to 1923 Professor at Halle University (now East Germany); 1923-1931 a professor at the University of Berlin; and from 1931-1932 he was visiting professor at the Yale University (where he gave lectures on "Primitive Culture in the Pacific Ares"). He was editor of "Sociologus", Hon. fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain; member of the Academy of Natural Research in Halle (Kaiserlich Deutsche Akademie für Naturforscher) 1932; member of the British Institute of Philosophy, member of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, London; member of the Institute for Sociological Research (1946); member of the Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (1947); Co-editor of "Archive für Anthropologie und Zeitschrift für vergleichenge Wissenschaften"; Editor of "Völker und Sprachen" (1948); Editor of "Sociologus" (new series) and in 1951 he became a professor at the Freie Universität of Berlin.

In connection with his studies and work as an anthropologist and sociologist he joined several expeditions and returned with valuable information in the fields of sociology and geography. In 1906-1909 he embarked upon his first expedition to the Solomon Islands. In 1913, he joined the "Kaiserin Augustafluss - Expedition" in New Guinea, "which had been sent out by the "Reichskolonialamt" in connection with the Museum for Ethnology in Berlin and the "Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft". This expedition ended abruptly with the outbreak of World War I. From 1930 to 1931 Thurnwald went to East Africa, and in 1933 he revisited the Solomon Islands.

As a result of his expeditions and his research he published the following, "Forschungen in den Solomoninseln", 1912; "Ethnologische Studien an Südseevölkern", 1913; "Banaro Society", 1916; "Primitive Psychology", 1922; "Die Menschliche Gesellschaft", 1931-1935, "Economics in Primitive Communities", 1932; "Black and White in East Africa", 1935; "Koloniale Gestaltungen",1938; "Lehrbuch für Völkerkunde", 1939; "Early Man's Precarious Control over Nature", 1948-1950; "Awakening of the Human Mind", 1948, "Social Dynamics", 1950; "Aufstleg des Menschen, Zwischen Vernunft and Wahn", 1950; and Des Menschengeistes Erwachen, Wachsen und Irren",1951.

For the years 1909-1910 and 1921-1923 the collection contains correspondence between Thurnwald and the "Deutsche Kolonialsellschaft" and the "Koloniae Rundschau", as well as colonial magazines which published articles by Thurnwald written after his expeditions to the Southseas. During the period 1924-1928 there is correspondence between Thurnwald and local cultural organizations in areas outside Germany in preparation for a series of public lectures.

In the years 1931-1932, following his expedition to East Africa Thurnwald corresponded with the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures in London and with persons from the Tanganyika Territory, i.e. the Secretary for Native Affairs, Mr. P. E, Mitchell and the chief clerk at the P. C.'S office, Mr. H. M. T. Kayamba.

The greater part of Thurnwald's correspondence in the years 1931-1933 and 1936 is with his manager Dr. W. E. Mühlmann, the publishing firm of C. L. Hirschfeld and the contributors of Thurnwald'a magazine, the "ZVS" (Zeitschrift für Völkerpsyohologie und Soziologie" - "Periodical for Social Psychology and Sociology") a bilingual magazine.

The remainder of the collection has been arranged by type, and as far as these papers and documents are dated, they too, have been placed in chronological order. Most of the material is interesting from the sociological; psycho-sociological, ethnological and anthropological point of view, rather than the historical. There are some reports on Thurnwald's expedition to the Southseas and courses he gave during the years 1920-1931 at the Universities of Halle and Berlin. Thurnwald listed and explained items concerning the customs and modes of life of the inhabitants of the Southseas for inclusion in two German encyclopaedias ( Brockhaus, and Ullstein Lexikon)

The essays by Thurnwald on the significance of colonies for Germany, especially after the First World War, are politically interesting.

The Richard C. Thurnwald Papers were donated to Yale University Library by Stephen W. Reed.


  • 1895-1936


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Stephen W. Reed, 1961.


2 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, writings, printed material and miscellanea relating to Thurnwald's foreign expeditions, teaching positions, and literary works.

Biographical / Historical

German sociologist; born in Berlin; studied anthropology and sociology in Vienna and Berlin Universities; field expeditions to the Solomon Islands and Micronesia (1906-1909 and 1932), New Guinea (1912-1915) and East Africa (1930); professor from 1924 at the University of Berlin; 1925 founded and edited Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Soziologie; author of numerous books and articles.

Guide to the Richard Christian Thurnwald Papers
Under Revision
Preliminary Inventory by John Espy
June 1980
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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