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Allen R. Maxwell papers

Call Number: MS 2017

Scope and Contents

The papers document the professional career and research interests of anthropologist Allen R. Maxwell. The papers include correspondence, manuscripts of published works and drafts of unpublished works, grant applications, fieldnotes, research notes, subject files, photographic slides and audio recordings. Materials related to his career and teaching (Series I and III) include correspondence with colleagues, syllabi and lecture notes from Barnard College and the University of Alabama. The bulk of the papers consists of materials that document his research (Series II, and IV to VII), which centered most closely on questions of kinship, language, social structure, environment, and ethnohistory among the Kadayan people of Brunei, with later interests in the oral traditions of various Sarawakian groups and more general issues of kinship universals. Of particular note are the materials relating to his four years of linguistic and ethnographic research in Brunei and the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Maxwell’s research ethnographic data includes fieldnotes, genealogies, and visual materials from Brunei and Sarawak, a lexicon of the Kadayan dialect of Brunei Malay, and compilations of the Malay texts Sya'ir Awang Simawn and Cetera Syekh Othman.


  • 1875-2010


Language of Materials

The material is in English and Malay.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials in Series I-VI are open for research.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Original computer files may not be accessed due to their fragility. Researchers must consult access copies.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Allen R. Maxwell has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

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

Transferred from the Southeast Asia Collection Curator, 2015.


The collection is organized into seven series: I. Correspondence, 1965-2010. II. Research, 1875-2010. III. Teaching, 1945-2010. IV. Visual materials, 1913-2010. V. Audio recordings, 1968-1989. VI. Malay lexicon and fieldnote cards, 1968-1988. VII. Computer disks 1980-2007.


46.33 Linear Feet (97 boxes)

87.37 Megabytes

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers document the professional career and research interests of anthropologist Allen R. Maxwell. The papers include correspondence, manuscripts of published works and drafts of unpublished works, grant applications, fieldnotes, research notes, subject files, photographic slides and audio recordings.

Biographical / Historical

Allen Richmond Maxwell, Jr. was born on December 10, 1939 in Hanover, New Hampshire. He attended the University of Michigan, where he received a B.A. degree in anthropology in 1961. The summer after his graduation he accompanied Michigan linguistics professor William J. Gedney, a specialist in Thai languages, to Thailand to serve as an instructor in an intensive Thai language course for Peace Corps volunteers. His experience with Peace Corps Training Program Thailand convinced him to pursue future anthropological fieldwork in Southeast Asia. He remained at the University of Michigan to pursue an M.A. degree in linguistics, which he received in 1962.

The following year, Maxwell applied to Yale University’s M.A. program in Southeast Asian Studies, but was instead accepted by the department of anthropology, where he pursued a doctoral degree under the supervision of Professor Harold C. Conklin. Yale was designated as a center for the National Defense Foreign Language Title VI Indonesian program, and he obtained a fellowship for the study of Indonesian from 1962 through 1966. Initially interested in pursuing ethnographic field work in Indonesian Kalimantan, the country’s volatile political climate in the mid-to-late 1960s led Maxwell to turn to neighboring Brunei. With the aid of a pre-doctoral fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and a National Institutes of Health research grant, he pursued ethnographic and linguistic research focused on Brunei’s Kadayan people from 1968 through 1971, spending most of his time in Kampung Psasaw-Pyasaw in the Labu Valley. Upon his return to Yale, he taught at Southern Connecticut State College, and later became an instructor at Barnard College in New York City in 1972. In 1974, he joined the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama, and remained there throughout his career. In 1980, Maxwell submitted a dissertation entitled "Urang Darat: An Ethnographic Study of the Kadayan of Labu Valley, Brunei," for which he received the Ph.D.

Maxwell’s ethnographic work and writings on Brunei centered on Kadayan kinship, environment, social structure, and ethnohistory. His linguistic writings attended to the Brunei variety of Malay and its Kadayan sub-dialect. Of particular interest was his compilation and analysis of several versions of the Sya'ir Awang Simawn, an epic poem describing the founding of Brunei.

His broader interests in ethnohistory and greater Borneo led Maxwell to conduct nine months of research on oral traditions in Sarawak, a Malaysian state and Brunei’s southern neighbor. This survey work, carried out in the mid-1980s, was supported by the Fulbright Southeast Asia Research Grant Program and analyzed oral traditions among the Malays, Kayans, Kenyahs, and other ethnicities in Sarawak. His collection of the Sarawak Malay text, Cetera Syekh Othman, is particularly noteworthy. Maxwell was interested in the role played by these texts in the intergenerational transmission of sociocultural beliefs and practices.

From 1999 to 2000, Maxwell returned to Brunei as a visiting professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Universiti Brunei Darussalam. In 2006 he was a visiting professor at the Institute of the Malay World and Civilization at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and the following year he was a senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of East Asian Studies at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. He retired from the University of Alabama in 2010.

Guide to the Allen R. Maxwell Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Richard Richie, Andrew Carruthers, and Matthew Gorham
March 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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