Guide to the Mary Douglas (1921-2007) Papers

Collection Title: Mary Douglas (1921-2007) Papers
Dates: 1948-1985
Identification: 11/3/2/2
Creator: Douglas, Mary, 1921-2007
Extent: 7 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: This series of six and one-half boxes contains materials relating to social anthropologist Dame Mary Tew Douglas' scholarly research and publication. In addition to a small amount of biographical materials, the papers are arranged into two subseries: African research materials, consisting chiefly of research notes, diaries and correspondence; and Publications, including notes, drafts, clippings, reviews, and correspondence.
Acquisition Information: Mary Douglas donated her papers to the Northwestern University Archives on April 15, 1983 (Accession # 83-38); June 24, 1985 (Accession # 85-109); and July 19, 1985 (Accession # 85-132).
Processing Information: Jean Alexander; April 23, 1986.
Conditions Governing Access: None.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Social anthropologist Dame Mary Tew Douglas was born March 25, 1921, in San Remo, Italy, daughter of Gilbert Charles Tew and Phyllis Twomey. She was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in Roehampton, England. Douglas attended Oxford University where she earned the degrees of B.A. (1943), M.A. (1947), B.Sci. (1948), and Ph.D. (1951). That same year she married James A.T. Douglas, an economist for the Conservative Party Research Department. The couple had three children: Janet, James, and Philip.

From 1943 to 1947 Mary Douglas was employed at the British Colonial Office. She did field work in 1949-51 in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) preparing an ethnographic survey of Nyasaland, to which she returned for further research in 1953. From 1951 to 1970 she lectured in anthropology at University College, London, and from 1971 to 1978 was Professor of Social Anthropology there. She also held visiting lectureships at the Sorbonne (1967), the University of Illinois (1969), the University of Chicago (1969), New York University (1978-79), Columbia (1979-80), and Yale (1980-81). She came to New York in 1977 as director of research on culture for the Russell Sage Foundation. In 1981 she was named Avalon Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, with joint appointments in the departments of anthropology and history and literature of religions. She retired from this position in 1985.

Douglas was internationally known for her scholarship and was considered the one of the foremost social anthropologists of her generation. Her early work dealt with the Lele of the Kasai in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and with concepts of pollution, hygiene, and taboo in Africa, Europe, and the Near East. She was an innovator in the application of anthropological methods to the study of modern societies with her work on social factors in classification systems, and on the anthropology of food, of consumption, and of risk assessment.

Two of her most influential books were Purity and Danger (1966), a study of taboo, and Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (1970). Her other works include The World of Goods (with Baron Isherwood, 1979), a work of economic anthropology; Edward Evans-Pritchard (1980), a study of the distinguished anthropologist with whom she studied; Risk and Culture (with Aaron Wildavsky, 1982), a controversial analysis of environmentalism; In the Active Voice (1982), a collection of essays; How Institutions Think (1986); In the Wilderness (1993), a study on the construction and context of the Book of Numbers; Missing Persons (1998); Leviticus as Literature (1999), a revision of her own earlier work on Jewish dietary codes in Purity and Danger; and Jacob's Tears (2004), which addressed the editorship of the Pentateuch. She edited several books and was the author of numerous articles and reviews which appeared in such publications as the Times Literary Supplement, New Society, and the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Her many honors and awards included a term as vice president of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1974-77), election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1974), election as a fellow of the British Academy (1989), Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1992), and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2007).

Mary Douglas died on May 16, 2007.

Scope and Content

This series of six and one-half boxes contains materials relating to Mary Douglas' scholarly research and publication. There is little concerning her teaching career and practically nothing of a personal nature. In addition to a small amount of biographical materials, the papers are arranged into two subseries: African research materials and publications.

The African research materials consist chiefly of research notes, diaries and correspondence compiled in the field during 1949-50 and 1953, with a small amount of later correspondence and drafts. The materials are broken into the following categories: correspondence, research notes, journals, and theses.

A folder of general correspondence contains material relating to both research topics and the political situation in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Two folders contain correspondence (1972-77) with and about the young anthropologist Ngokwey Ndelamb, a member of the Lele tribe, concerning his own work, his investigations updating Douglas' research among the Lele, and her efforts to further his scholarly career.

Eleven folders of field research notes contain handwritten notes, maps, diagrams, charts, and drafts (co 1949-53) on various aspects of the geography, economy, language, and culture of Nyasaland and particularly, the Lele of the Kasai. The notes are undated and there appears to be considerable overlap between topics.

Seven journals (c. 1949-53) contain notes on similar topics. Three of these are undated journals of reading notes, in French, on Africa and the Congo. Two are small, undated notebooks on language. The remainder date from 195.E and contain diary entries and notes on hunting, sorcery, pollution, and kinship.

Rounding out the African research materials are typewritten copies of Mary Douglas's unpublished B.S. thesis (1948) entitled “Bride Wealth in Africa” and her unpublished Ph.D. thesis, “A Study of the Social Organization of the Kasai” (1952).

Materials relating to publications include notes, drafts, clippings, reviews, and correspondence (1953-1985) with agents, publishers, editors, scholars and other specialists, co-authors, and reviewers. The dates and precise nature of the materials vary, but there is a significant amount of correspondence with several scholars providing comments and critiques of Douglas' work. In the case of Risk and Culture, copies of the correspondence of Aaron Wildavsky are included. Apart from these materials on specific titles, there is a small quantity of general correspondence (1970-85), a folder of correspondence concerning reprint permissions (1978-83), and a folder of correspondence on Douglas's relationship with the Russell Sage Foundation. There are also valuable notes and correspondence on pollution, a concept with which she dealt in several of her works. Related materials will be found in the folder of notes on “Leviticus XI.”

Arrangement of Materials

In addition to a small amount of biographical materials, the papers are arranged into two subseries: African research materials and publications. Within the African research materials, correspondence is arranged chronologically (1949-68) and field research notes are arranged alphabetically by topical headings. Publications are arranged alphabetically by title of publication, and within folders materials are arranged chronologically.


Corporate Name

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). Department of Anthropology--Faculty

Personal Name

Douglas, Mary, 1921-2007



Ethnology--Study and teaching (Higher)--United States

Container List / Contents

  • Biographical Materials
    • Biographical Materials, 1981Box 1, Folder 1
  • African Research Materials
    • General Correspondence, 1949-68Box 1, Folder 2
    • Ngokwey Ndolamb Correspondence, 1972-77Box 1, Folder 3
    • Ngokwey Ndolamb Manuscripts, c. 1972-76Box 1, Folder 4
    • Research Notes, 1949-53
      • Age SetsBox 1, Folder 5
      • AnimalsBox 1, Folder 6
      • ChiefsBox 1, Folder 7
      • Ecology and Population (1)Box 1, Folder 8
      • Ecology and Population (2)Box 1, Folder 9
      • LanguageBox 1, Folder 10
      • MedicineBox 1, Folder 11
      • ReligionBox 1, Folder 12
      • Social, Cultural, Political (1)Box 2, Folder 1
      • Social, Cultural, Political (2)Box 2, Folder 2
      • TechniquesBox 2, Folder 3
    • Journals, c. 1949-1953
      • Field Notes (1), 1953Box 2, Volume 1
      • Field Notes (2), 1953Box 2, Volume 2
      • Language Notes (1), n.d.Box 2, Volume 3
      • Language Notes (2), n.d.Box 2, Volume 4
      • Reading Notes (in French) (1), n.d.Box 2, Volume 5
      • Reading Notes (in French) (2), n.d.Box 2, Volume 6
      • Reading Notes (in French), n.d.Box 2, Volume 7
    • Theses
      • “Bride Wealth in Africa” (B.S., Oxford), 1948Box 3, Volume 1
      • "A Study of the Social Organization of the Kasai" (Ph.D., Oxford), 1952Box 3, Volume 2
  • Publications
    • General Correspondence, 1970-85Box 3, Folder 1
    • Darryll Forde Obituary Notes, 1973Box 3, Folder 2
    • "Essays in the Sociology of Perception">, Correspondence, 1979-83Box 3, Folder 3
    • "Edward Evans-Pritchard", Correspondence, 1961-79Box 4, Folder 1
    • "Edward Evans-Pritchard", Correspondence, 1980-84Box 4, Folder 2
    • "Edward Evans-Pritchard", Manuscript, pp. 1-93, 1980Box 4, Folder 3
    • "Edward Evans-Pritchard", Manuscript, pp. 94-178, 1980Box 4, Folder 4
    • "Edward Evans-Pritchard", Galley Proofs, 1980Box 4, Folder 5
    • "Implicit Meanings">, Reviews, 1975-77Box 4, Folder 6
    • "In the Active Voice", Correspondence, 1978-84Box 4, Folder 7
    • "In the Active Voice", Drafts and Offprints, 1962-72Box 5, Folder 1
    • "In the Active Voice", Offprints, 1973-77Box 5, Folder 2
    • "In the Active Voice", Offprints, 1979-82Box 5, Folder 3
    • "Lele of the Kasai", Correspondence, 1977-85Box 5, Folder 4
    • “Leviticus XI” Notes, c. 1959Box 5, Folder 5
    • "Natural Symbols">, Correspondence, 1982Box 5, Folder 6
    • "Natural Symbols", Reviews, 1970-80Box 5, Folder 7
    • Pollution, Notes, n.d.Box 5, Folder 8
    • Pollution, Correspondence, 1953-80Box 5, Folder 9
    • "Purity and Danger", Correspondence, 1966-80Box 6, Folder 1
    • "Religion in America", Reviews, 1982-84Box 6, Folder 2
    • Reprint Permission Correspondence, 1978-84Box 6, Folder 3
    • "Risk Acceptability According to the Social Sciences", Correspondence, 1983-85Box 6, Folder 4
    • "Risk and Culture", Correspondence, 1979-80Box 6, Folder 5
    • "Risk and Culture", Correspondence, Jan.-Feb. 1981Box 6, Folder 6
    • "Risk and Culture", Correspondence, March-Aug. 1981Box 6, Folder 7
    • "Risk and Culture", Correspondence, Sept.-Dec. 1981Box 6, Folder 8
    • "Risk and Culture", Correspondence, 1982-85Box 6, Folder 9
    • "Risk and Culture", Reviews, 1982Box 6, Folder 10
    • Risk and Culture, Reviews, 1983-84Box 6, Folder 11
    • "Rules and Meanings", Correspondence, 1973-81Box 7, Folder 1
    • Russell Sage Foundation, Correspondence, 1976-82Box 7, Folder 2
    • "The World of Goods", Notes and Drafts, 1967-77Box 7, Folder 3
    • "The World of Goods", Correspondence, 1977-78Box 7, Folder 4
    • "The World of Goods", Correspondence, 1979-84Box 7, Folder 5
    • "The World of Goods", Reviews, 1979-82Box 7, Folder 6