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Bronislaw Malinowski papers

Call Number: MS 19

Scope and Contents

The papers of Bronislaw Malinowski in the Yale University Library consist of correspondence, manuscripts of some of his published writings, publications, manuscripts of lectures, fieldwork notebooks, miscellaneous notes, photographs memorabilia and a variety of printed matter. The papers in the Yale University Library are not the entire corpus of Malinowski's materials; the London School of Economics has some of Malinowski's papers, a collection which include some correspondence, fieldwork journals, notes and research materials.

The Malinowski papers have been organized into four main series: (a) correspondence; (b) writings, lectures, and research materials; (c)writings of others; and (d) special files.

Series I, "Correspondence," is composed of letters received by Malinowski and carbon copies of his letters to others. There is also a small amount of correspondence of Elsie Malinowska, his wife, and Józefa Malinowska, his mother. The users of these papers will find many electostatic copies of letters in the correspondence series. This is a result of the fact that Malinowski often used the backs of letters for notes, drafts and miscellaneous writing having no relationship to the letters. In such cases, the manuscript original letter has been placed with the notes and research materials, and a copy of the letter has been made for the correspondence series. The correspondence is far from complete. There are very few letters for the last years of Malinowski's life (1938-1942) when he was living in the United States; consult the file for Maria Levinskaya for these letters. Most of his correspondence for these years apparently is at the London School of Economics. Also, in many cases where there apparently were a large number of letters exchanged with individuals and organizations, only a few now remain in Malinowski's files.

Malisowski corresponded with scholars in many disciplines in many countries, but principally with anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists living in Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. His correspondents wrote in English, German, Polish, French, and Italian. They included Felix Gross, J. Huizinga, Wilhelm Reich, Bertrand Russell, E. A. Westermarck, D. H. Westermann, Elton Mayo, Melville Herskovitz, M. F. Ashley Montagu, and A. W. Hoernlé, as well as many others. There are approximately fifty items of Malinowski's correspondence with Brenda and C. G. Seligman of the London School of Economics, nearly thirty of which were written during the years Malinowski spent in New Guinea, the Trobriand Islands, and Australia. It was during his early years that Malinowski's friendship with Seligman was closest. There are also some forty-five items of correspondence with Sir James Frazer and Lady Frazer. Another prominent figure whose correspondence with Malinowski is substantially represented in these papers is Havelock Ellis. There are approximately thirty letters from Ellis and one third that number of letters from Malinowski to Ellis, in which they discuss each other's writings and theories, Freudian psychoanalysis, and current publications.

The manuscripts also contain some forty-seven letters from his friend Princess Marie Bonaparte, and fifteen letters that Malinowski wrote to her in the period 1932-1938. Several of his letters discuss Malinowski's attempt to nominate Sigmund Freud for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1938.

One important class of materials in Series I is Malinowski's correspondence with former students engaged in anthropological fieldwork and research in all parts of the world. Among the many former students whose letters are in the files are: Edith Clarke, in London and Jamaica; Hortense Powdermaker in the United States; Ian Hogbin in the Solomon Islands; Raymond Firth in Australia; Reo Fortune in Astraulia and China; and J.C. DeGraft-Johnson, Meyer Fortes, Sjoerd Hofstra, S. F. Nadel, Lucy Mair, Margaret Read, Otto Raum, Audrey Richards, and Godfrey Wilson in Africa.

Series I also contains correspondence with scholarly journals and reviews to which Malinowski contributed, as well as correspondence with British and American publishers. There is correspondence with administrators in the Colonial Service, with the London School of Economics, and with the British Broadcasting Corporation. Series I also contains correspondence with family and friends in the Poland and Australia, and legal and financial correspondence. During his research expeditions and for years afterward, Malinowski corresponded with Billy Hancock and Raphael Bruno, pearl dealers in the Trobriand Islands.

Series II, "Writings, Lectures, and Research Materials," is composed of Malinowski's lectures, interviews, articles, reviews, notes, fieldwork materials, and books. The lectures are primarily in manuscript form. In some cases in addition to the manuscript there are revised drafts and galleys. There are manuscript copies of The Sexual Life of Savages and Coral Gardens and Their Magic, as well as Malinowski's own copies of these and other published works.

Series II also contains field notebooks and field notes which date from the period of Malinowski's research in New Guinea. Accompanying this material are several hundred photographs of the Mailu and Trobriand Islanders. The negatives for these photographs have not been given to the Yale University Library.

There are two archive boxes of notes and fragments on anthropological and sociological subjects, often in the form of notes about and critiques of the writings and theories of others. Some of this material appears to have originated as early as during Malinowski's years as a graduate student. The subjects of later notes suggest that much of this material was eventually incorporated into lectures, articles and books.

"Writings of Others,"Series III, consist principally of books, articles and papers written by students and colleagues of Malinowski. In addition to writings of Audrey Richards, Fei Hsiao-Tung, and C.G. Seligman,there are copies of Frazer's The Golden Bough (annotated by Malinowski) and of Garnered Sheaves (autographed by the author). There is also a copy of Freud's Drie Abhandlungen zur Sexual Theorie annotated throughout by Malinowski. Included in this series are several of Malinowski's books.

Series IV, "Special Files," consist of memorabilia, including certificates, bulletins, and clippings, advertisements for Malinowski's books and lectures, memorial tributes, and photographs. Among the items are war-time travel permits and certificates issued to Malinowski as as alien by the Commonwealth of Australia during his years of fieldwork in New Guinea, 1914-1918. There are also accounts of the memorial meetings held in New York City and London in 1942 after Malinowski's death. The photographs in Series IV are pictures of Malinowski and of his family in Poland, as well as of Elsie Malinowska and the children. There are also photographs of family friends in Australia and Europe.


  • 1869-1946
  • Majority of material found within 1914 - 1939


Conditions Governing Access

Series I, Boxes 1-10, and Series II, Box 24 are available on microfilm. Patrons must use FILM HM 129 instead of the originals. Restricted material in Box 5 was not filmed.

Existence and Location of Copies

Fieldwork and correspondence, excluding restricted material, available on microfilm (7,121 frames on 7 reels, 35 mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM129.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other 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 Mrs. Valetta Malinowska in 1972. Gift of Ronald Waterbury, 2003.


Arranged in four series and one addition: I. Correspondence. II. Writings, Lectures, and Research Materials. II. Writings of Others. IV. Special Files.

Associated Materials

Bronislaw Malinowski Papers, London School of Economics and Political Science.


15.75 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts of writings and lectures, fieldwork notebooks, photographs, memorabilia, and other papers of Bronislaw Malinowski, cultural anthropologist, teacher, and author. These materials reflect in some detail various aspects of Malinowski's research and other professional work in the areas of cultural anthropology and ethnobiology as well as his professional and personal associations with anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Of particular interest are the field notebooks, photographs, and other materials related to his work among the natives of New Guinea and the Trobriand Islands. Also included are some papers of members of Malinowski's family. Correspondents of note include Havelock Ellis, Sir James Frazer, Marie Bonaparte, Ernest Jones, Elton Mayo, Charles G. Seligman, and Edvard Westermarck.

Biographical / Historical

Bronislaw Kasper Malinowski was born in Cracow, Poland on April 7, 1884. Educated in that city, he received his Ph. D. in physics and mathematics from University of Cracow in 1908. Reasons of health forced Malinowski to discontinue his studies for a time. It was during this period, according to Raymond Firth, that Malinowski read Frazer's The Golden Bough, which aroused his interest in ethnology and anthropology.

Malinowski studied at Leipzip Univerisity before coming to England in 1910. His interests led him to the London School of Economics, where he studied under E. A. Westermarck, Graham Wallas, and L. T. Hobhouse. He was formally admitted as a candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Science in anthropology under the supervision of C. G. Seligman.

With Seligman's help, Malinowski acquired the scholarship and grants necessary for his first expedition in the field. Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914, Malinowski began the Robert Mond Anthropological Expedition to British New Guinea and Northwestern Melanesia. Expecting to stay not more than eighteen months, Malinowski spent four years in the region. The war delayed his return to England and complicated his stay, since Malinowski was still an Austrian subject. The Australian authorities did, however, permit him to travel about the territories for scientific purposes.

Malinowski made three expeditions to the field, the first being a stay of more than six months among the Mailu of New Guinea (1914-1915). On the basis of his work on the Mailu and two earlier monographs on Australian aborigines, Malinowski received a D.Sc. degree from the London School of Economics in 1916. After the Mailu, he concentrated his research on the natives of the Trobriand Islands, whom he studied in the course of two one-year expeditions (May, 1915-May, 1916; October, 1917-October, 1918).

In the fall of 1918, Malinowski returned from the field to Melbourne, Australia. The following year he married Elsie R. Masson, daughter of Sir David O. Masson, professor of chemistry at Melbourne University. (The Malinowski's had three daughters, Józefa, Wanda, and Helena. Elsie Malinowski died in 1935 after a long illness. Several years after her death, Malinowski married Valetta Swann, and artist.)

Malinowski returned to Europe in 1920, and resumed his post as a part-time lecturer at the London School of Economics. He was named a lecturer (1922), a reader (1924), and in 1927 became the first professor of social anthropology in the London School of Economics. He was professor at that institution for most of the remaining years of his life and acquired British citizenship.

Malinowski became known as the founder of the functional school of anthropology, which sought an integrated, rather than piecemeal, view of institutions and individual relationships within a society. Opposed to isolated descriptions of picturesque events of the strict categorization of a society into separate and distinct parts, the functional approach attempted to show how all the elements of culture--customs, beliefs, economic practices, family organization, and individual needs--were interrelated and interdependent.

Another of Malinowski's contributions to anthropology was his high standard of fieldwork technique, which included rigorous documentation and analysis, as well as complete mastery of the language of the people under study. A gifted teacher, he helped train and develop a corps of distinguished anthropologists, among them Raymond Firth, Camilla Wedgewood, I. Schapera, Hortense Powdermaker, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Audrey Richards, Ian Hogbin, and Gordon Brown.

Malinowski actively encouraged the application of anthropological knowledge to the solution of practical problems. Working with the Board of Study for the Preparation of Missionaries, he sought to impress upon prospective and experienced missionaries an anthropologist's perspective of the problems they would encounter. Malinowski worked to enlarge the role of anthropological studies in the training of colonial administrators. In this way, he hoped to bring about more widespread application of anthropological insights to the problems of native administrations in Africa and Asia.

During his years at the London School of Economics, Malinowski became a member of many learned societies, among them the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands, and the Royal Society of New Zealand. He was also a correspondent of the Italian Committee for the Study of Population Problems.

Conferences and lectures took Malinowski to Southern and Eastern Africa in 1934 and to the Oslo Institute for the Comparative Study of Cultures in 1936. He visited the United States in 1926, 1933, and in 1936 for the Harvard Tercentenary, where he received and Honorary D.Sc. degree. On sabbatical leave, Malinowski again came to the United States in the fall of 1938 with the intention of returning to London the following summer. Because of the outbreak of war in Europe, however, he was advised to remain in the United States.

Yale University appointed him Visiting Professor for the academic year 1939-1940. In September, 1940, he became Bishop Museum Visiting Professor at Yale, an appointment which was renewed for the academic year 1941-1942. Malinowski died in New Haven, Connecticut, on May 16, 1942, in his fifty-eighth year.

For a bibliography of Malinowski's writings, see the article by G. P. Murdock in the American Anthropologist, volume 45, 1943, pp 441-451.

For additional biographical material, see Raymond Firth's introduction to Man & Culture. An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski (London: 1957). This volume also contains a selected bibliography of Malinowski's works (including material published posthumously) and of works about Malinowski.

Guide to the Bronislaw Malinowski Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Katherine Morton and staff of Manuscripts and Archives
January 1973
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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