National Anthropological Archives

Guide to the Papers of Ruth Leah Bunzel

Collection ID:
Physical Description:
13 Linear feet
26 boxes, 2 audio reels
The bulk of this collection documents the professional life of Ruth Leah Bunzel from the 1940s to 1970s. The collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, notes, research files, teaching materials, card files, artwork, and sound recordings.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The bulk of this collection documents the professional life of Ruth Leah Bunzel from the 1940s to 1970s. The collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, notes, research files, teaching materials, card files, artwork, and sound recordings. A large portion of the collection is comprised of work from the Chinese project that Bunzel led as part of Columbia University Research in Contemporary Cultures [RCC]. The collection also contains her paper for the Bureau of Applied Social Research, "Interviewing in National Character Research" (in which she analyzes the methods used in RCC), as well as materials from two spin-offs of RCC--Studies in Soviet Culture and Studies in Contemporary Cultures. Bunzel's relationship with Columbia University is also represented in the collection through her notes as lecturer and adjunct professor at Columbia University, correspondence with her students, and her students' papers. Among her students was Ethel Cutler Freeman, whose letters and assignments can be found in the collection. There are also memos and other materials documenting the activities of the anthropology department and university, as well as their responses to the 1968 student uprising at Columbia. In addition, the collection contains notes from courses Bunzel took with Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict as a graduate student at Columbia.
Other items of significance are the drawings of Hopi and Zuni kachinas that Bunzel collected while in the field in the Southwest and a map of a Tewa village sketched in pencil. The collection does not contain any of her field notes from her work in the Southwest nor from her work in Guatemala or Mexico.
Although Bunzel's writings are not well represented in the collection, there are items of interest such as typescript copies of "Tentative Questionnaire for Handbook of Psychological Leads for Ethnological Field Workers: Economics," her handwritten reminiscence of Boas, and drafts of papers she presented at conferences. Also of interest are notes on her memories of the Abram Kardiner psychocultural seminars (in which she was an early participant), notes from various seminars, and two 1963 sound recordings from an Anthropology and World Affairs regional conference.
Among her notable correspondents in the collection are David F. Aberle, Franziska Boas, Steve Boggs, Paul Bohannan, Joseph Casagrande, Vincent Crapanzano, Harold Driver, Abe Edel, Raymond Fogelson,Morton H. Fried, Ethel Cutler Freeman, Alexander Lesser, Oscar Lewis, George Marcus, Catharine McClellan, Margaret Mead, Lita Fejos Osmundson, George Spindler, Leslie White, Helene Boas Yampolsky, and Mark Zborowski.

Arranged into 9 series: (1) Correspondence, 1957-1977; (2) Research in Contemporary Cultures, 1947-1954; (3) Columbia University, 1925-1941 & 1956-1969; (4) Writings and Projects, 1929-1968 [Bulk 1960-1968]; (5) Associations, Conferences, & Seminars, 1940-1973; (6) Writings by Others, 1921-1979; (7) Card Files; (8) Artwork; (9) Sound Recordings, 1963

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Ruth Leah Bunzel was born on April 18, 1898 in New York City. Known as "Bunny" by her friends, she attended Barnard College where she received her B.A. in European History in 1918. With no thought of continuing her education, she acquired a job in 1922 as secretary and editorial assistant to Franz Boas at Columbia University. Esther Goldfrank, who had resigned as Boas's secretary to study anthropology at Columbia, was a friend of one of Bunzel's sisters.
By 1924 Bunzel, herself, was considering a career in anthropology and wanted to observe an anthropologist at work in the field. Since Boas traveled to Europe every summer, Bunzel decided to spend her vacation that year in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico as a secretary to Ruth Benedict, who would be collecting Zuni mythology. When she informed Boas of her plan, Boas encouraged her to work on her own research rather than spending her time on secretarial work. He suggested that she study art, specifically potters and their pottery. Elsie Clews Parsons objected to Bunzel (who lacked formal training) conducting her own research in Zuni and threatened to withdraw her financial support of Benedict's mythology project. With Boas's firm backing, Parsons eventually relented and Bunzel was allowed to go to Zuni.
That summer, Bunzel arrived in Zuni with papier maché pots she had made for her informants to paint designs on. She observed the potters at work and also made pottery alongside them. After five weeks she felt she had gathered enough information on the Zuni and moved on to study Hopi, San Ildefonso, and Acoma potters. The results of her research would later produce her dissertation, The Pueblo Potter, A Study of Creative Imagina
tion in Primitive Art
, published in 1929.
When she returned to New York, she began work on a draft of
The Pueblo Potter
and in 1925 resigned as Boas's secretary to become his student at Columbia University. Although she completed her doctoral work and dissertation in 1927, she was not awarded her PhD until 1929 when the
The Pueblo Potter
was published. (At the time, the university did not confer doctorates until a student's dissertation had been published.)
The Pueblo Potter
, a landmark work, was the first anthropological study of art and the individual in culture.
From 1924 to 1929 Bunzel spent several summers and winters in Zuni. Parsons, who had initially opposed her first trip, sponsored Bunzel's second trip, this time to study ceremonialism, and other trips and projects. Bunzel's papers on Zuni ceremonialism as well as creation myths, kachinas, and poetry were published in the
47th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology
(1932). Flora Zuni and her family, with whom Bunzel lived when she was in the field, formally adopted her and initiated her into their clan, the Beaver clan. They gave her the Zuni name Maiatitsa, which means "blue bird," a reference to the blue smock that Bunzel often wore while making pottery. Bunzel's second Zuni name, Tsatitsa, was given to her by her primary informant and former governor of the pueblo, Nick Tumaka. After a decade long absence, Bunzel returned to Zuni for her last time in 1939 to study child development.
Having studied the Southwest, Bunzel felt it was natural to also study Mexico. During her interview for a Guggenheim Fellowship, however, the chairman of the foundation persuaded her to study Guatemala, instead, as no American anthropologist had done much work in the area. As a result, from 1930 to 1932 she studied the Highland Mayan village of Santo Tomas Chichicastenango. Her work there resulted in
Chichicastenango, A Guatemalan Village
, published in 1952. From 1936 to 1937 she also did fieldwork in the village of Chamula in Chiapas, Mexico. Her 1940 article "The Role of Alcoholism in Two Central American Communities" was a comparative study of Chichicastenango and Chamula. During World War II, Bunzel worked in England for the U.S. Government Office of War Information from 1942 to 1945. Having spent some time in Spain during the late 1930s improving her Spanish, she translated broadcasts for Spain as well as incoming broadcasts.
When she returned to New York after the war, she became involved in the Columbia University Research in Contemporary Cultures project [RCC]. Directed by Ruth Benedict and funded by the Office of Naval Research, RCC was composed of research groups, each studying a different culture. From 1947 to 1951, Bunzel led the group studying China, which involved interviewing Chinese immigrants in New York City. The project produced several papers, including her unpublished manuscripts,
Explorations in Chinese Culture and An Anthropological Approach to Chinese Communism
, which she co-authored with John Hast Weakland.
Early in her career, Bunzel was a lecturer at Barnard College (1929-1930) and at Columbia University (1933-1935, 1937-1940). It was not until 1953 that she was hired as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia. Although the university's official appointment card lists Bunzel as having retired in 1966, she continued to teach at Columbia University after her retirement.
On January 14, 1990, Bunzel passed away at the age of 91.
Sources Consulted
Babcock, Barbara A. and Nancy Parezo. "Ruth Bunzel."
Daughters of the Desert
. University of New Mexico. 1988.
Fawcett, David M. and Teri McLuhan. "Ruth Leah Bunzel."
Women Anthropologists: Selected Biographies
. Ed. Ute Gacs, et al. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Born April 18 in New York, New York
Earns B.A. from Barnard College in European History
Secretary and editorial assistant to Franz Boas
First trip to Zuni, New Mexico
Enrolls in Columbia University's graduate program in anthropology
Spends summers and winters conducting fieldwork among the Zuni
Studies at University of Chicago
Executive Committee Board of AAA
Studies at the National University of Mexico
Publication of dissertation,
The Pueblo Potter, A Study of Creative Imagination in Primitive Art
Receives Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University
Lecturer at Barnard College
Fieldwork in Chichicastenango, Guatemala
Lecturer, General Studies and Summer Session, Columbia University
Lecturer, General Studies and Summer Session, Columbia University
Fieldwork in Zuni studying child development
Social Scientist U.S. Government Office of War Information, Propoganda Analysis
Director of Chinese Project of Columbia University Research in Contemporary Cultures
Works on Bureau of Applied Social Research project on techniques of interviewing
Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University
Research Associate, Institute of Intercultural Studies
Teaching-consultant, Columbia University School of Nursing
Senior Research Associate, Columbia University
Chair, Section H, AAAS
Dies January 14 in New York City at the age of 91
Selected Bibliography
The Pueblo Potter, A Study of Creative Imagination in Primitive Art.
New York: Columbia University Press.
"Zuni Ritual Poetry." Ibid.
"Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism."
47th Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution.
Washington: Government Printing Office.
"Zuni Creation Myths." Ibid.
"Zuni Katchinas." Ibid.
Zuni Texts
. Publications of the American Ethnological Society, Vol. 15. New York: G.E. Stechert and Company.
"Zuni Grammar." Handbook of American Indian Languages, Vol. 3. New York: Columbia University Press.
"The Economic Organization of Primitive People." Ibid.
"Primitive Art."
General Anthropology
. Boston: D.C. Heath .
"The Role of Alcoholism in Two Central American Communities."
, Vol 33, pp. 361-387.
Explorations in Chinese Culture
. Research in Contemporary Cultures, Columbia University. (unpublished report)
Chichicastenango, A Guatemalan Village
. Publications of the American Ethnological Society, Vol 22. Locust Valley, New York: J. J. Auigustin.
with John Weakland.
An Anthropological Approach to Chinese Communism
. Research in Contemporary Cultures, Columbia University. (unpublished report)
edited with Margaret Mead.
The Golden Age of American Anthropology
. New York: George Braziller.
"May Mandelbaum Edel 1909-1964."
American Anthropologist
, Vol 68, No. 4, pp. 986-989.
"Chamula and Chichicastenango: A Reexamination."
Cross-Cultural Approaches to the Study of Alcohol
. The Hague: Mouton.

Lorain Wang
Processed with the support of a Wenner-Gren Foundation Historical Archives Program grant.
Processing Note
The papers of Ruth Leah Bunzel were received partially organized. The processing archivist kept existing groupings and arrangement and organized the collection into nine series. Original folder titles were retained with titles assigned by the archivist placed within square brackets.
The processing archivist would like to thank Dr. Bruce Bernstein for providing information about the kachina artwork in this collection.
Processed by Lorain Wang, January 2007
Encoded by Jocelyn Baltz, June 2012
These papers were donated to the National Anthropological Archives by Columbia University's Department of Anthropology.

Using the Collection
Restrictions on Use
Contact repository for terms of use.
Restrictions on Access
Materials with student grades were separated and have been restricted. Most of the restricted materials are not open for access until 2030.

Related Collections
Other materials relating to Ruth Bunzel at the National Anthropological Archives include kachina drawings in MS 4609; correspondence with the Bureau of American Ethnology in MS 4846 and the Records of the Bureau of American Ethnology; and a photograph of Bunzel in Photographic Lot 92-35. The Human Studies Film Archive has a video oral history of Bunzel (HSFA 89.10.8) which was created as part of the "History of Anthropology Series" produced by the University of Florida's Department of Anthropology.

Repository Contact
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