Scope and Contents
The Papers of Walter Zenner document his extensive career as a teacher and scholar of cultural anthropology. Through articles, correspondence, clippings, drafts, field notes, research notes, and other documents, the papers record Zenner's work on a variety of anthropological subjects including Middle Eastern ethnic groups, Jewish communities, immigrant groups, and the concept of a 'middleman minority' or a distinct ethnic population which serves the needs of the majority by filling a vital economic or cultural niche.
Walter P. Zenner was born in Germany in 1933, but the Zenner family soon immigrated to the United States. Correspondence and legal documents, some in German, record their negotiations with the U.S. Immigration Service, assistance from the Rothschilds, and the family's eventual settlement in Chicago. (Series V.) Zenner remained in the Chicago area for college, attending Northwestern University. An assortment of the syllabi, class notes, papers, and correspondence document his undergraduate career as well as his graduate study at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. (Series IV.)
Zenner spent the majority of his professional life in the Department of Anthropology at the State University of New York at Albany, where he taught from 1966 until his retirement in 2002. Class materials including syllabi, handouts, exams, lecture notes, departmental memos, and correspondence among faculty document his long and successful tenure there. Zenner taught a wide variety of courses, from introductory surveys to graduate proseminars in specialized topics such as the ethnology of religion. His particular interests in teaching, however, were Judaism and Jewish communities, folklore, and urban anthropology. (Series IV.) A significant number of folders in this series are restricted because they contain student work, grades, and social security numbers.
The areas of cultural anthropology that Zenner specialized in teaching shared some commonality with his major research interests: Middle Eastern ethnic groups, the Jewish Diaspora, and immigration. He produced many publications on these subjects, as shown by the manuscript drafts, correspondence, and reprints in the Papers. (Series I, Subseries 1.) Zenner's subject files (Series I, Subseries II) provide a record of his research both in libraries and in the field. A significant amount of typed and handwritten notes and correspondence document Zenner's field work in Isfiya, a Druse village in Israel that he visited in 1967-8 while working with the Cross Cultural Study of Ethnocentrism directed by Northwestern University and again while on sabbatical in 1973-1974. An extensive collection of clippings from the Jerusalem Post provides further context on inter-ethnic relations in Israel at the time. A small collection of photographs (Series VI) also documents the 1973-1974 work in Israel. Other fieldwork projects documented include a study of Syrian-American Jewish religious life in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a study of Soviet Jewish immigrants to Albany in the early 1980s, and an examination of proceedings in Immigration Court in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or National Anthropological Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.