The Melville J. Herskovits Papers document Herskovits' career during a period of very rapid growth of both anthropology and African studies. Professional correspondence and manuscripts of publications make up the bulk of the collection, although other material is included as well. A small amount of material relating to Herskovits' personal life is also present, particularly in the general files.
The collection is divided into five subseries: General Files, Foreign Relations Committee Report Files, Student Field Notes, Writings, and Photographs.
General Files. These files consist primarily of Herskovits' professional and, to a lesser extent, personal correspondence. In addition to correspondence, various other materials are to be found here, including minutes and agendas of meetings, press clippings, official reports, and similar items. A small portion of the material is in languages other than English, with French and Portuguese predominating.
For the most part, Herskovits' original file order has been maintained. The files are arranged alphabetically by folder title within a chronological framework. Files covering the years 1906 through 1942 are arranged alphabetically by folder title, as are those from 1943 through August 1944; September 1944 through August 1946; and September 1946 through August 1948. Individual files arranged alphabetically by folder title exist for each academic year (September-August) from September 1948 through August 1961. A final alphabetical subject file covers the period from September 1961 through August 1963.
Within each folder, arrangement is generally chronological. The major exception to this rule is the miscellaneous file for each letter of the alphabet, in which material is arranged alphabetically by subject or correspondent, then filed chronologically within these subdivisions.
In general, Herskovits filed letters and related material according to the surname of the correspondent. In many cases, however, subject headings or names of organizations were used instead.
(This filing scheme seems to have been determined partially by the extent of Herskovits' personal relationship with each correspondent.) Also, similar material was filed under varying folder titles in succeeding years. As a result of these inconsistencies, related material can often be found under more than one file heading. The researcher should use all possible access points, including the names of individuals, organizations, and institutions and appropriate subject headings.
The general files are especially valuable as a source of information about the issues and personalities that shaped the disciplines of anthropology and African studies. Herskovits corresponded regularly with many of the most prominent people in his field, and these letters, combined with lengthy files concerning the activities of various professional committees, provide a detailed picture of the shifting interests and emerging professionalism that characterized these areas of study during Herskovits' lifetime.
Foreign Relations Committee Report Files. These files concern the report that Herskovits prepared in 1960 for the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The first part of the file consists of research materials arranged according to Herskovits' own classification scheme. These folders contain partial drafts of the report, as well as notes and background information such as clippings. The second section includes various drafts of the report, including the final one. The final section is composed of administrative files produced in the course of the project. Correspondence, dating from both before and after the report was issued, is found here, as is material concerning staffing and the acquisition of necessary information.
Student Field Notes. This file contains notes produces by Herskovits' students while engaged in field work (generally, though not always, in Africa) for their dissertations. The notes are arranged alphabetically by the surname of the student, except for one group of oversized notes. These are filed at the end of the alphabetical sequence. Within each student's notes, the arrangement imposed by the student has been maintained. In a few cases, the original arrangement was not clear; these are so noted.
Writings. The Writings file consists of six parts: Books, Articles and Miscellaneous Writings, Book Reviews, Research Materials, Card Files, and Course Materials. Not all of Herskovits' publications are represented here. Material relating to books includes one or more drafts written by Herskovits alone or with other authors. Generally, when more than one draft is present, successive drafts are labeled Draft 1, Draft 2, and so forth. Some drafts are incomplete. The material is arranged alphabetically by title.
Material relating to articles and miscellaneous writings consists mainly of drafts of articles, supplemented by a few lectures, encyclopedia entries, biographical notes, and similar items. Again, more than one draft is often present; multiple drafts are foldered together. Arrangement is alphabetical by title.
Book reviews are arranged alphabetically by the title of the book reviewed. When several boxes are reviewed together in one review article, only the first title is indicated in the container list. Again, multiple drafts are foldered together.
The research materials, which include a small amount of material on the Rroo and the African Ethnic Card Project, consist primarily of physical anthropology data collected during the 1910's and 1920's. This material is divided generally into forms, tabulations, and calculations. Whenever possible, the folders are labeled more precisely as to the source and specific nature of the data. The card files were used to organize information for various manuscripts. The cards have been bundled into groups as found, then boxed. See the container list for the specific contents of this file.
The course materials begin with Herskovits' own lecture notes from a course he took with Boas in 1922. Lecture notes, bibliographies, and other material pertaining to courses Herskovits taught follow. The file is arranged by course title. A portion of the material found here is undated; apparently the same material was used when a course was offered in succeeding years.
Photographs. Photographs, lantern slides, and contemporary slides are included here, many of them identified only generally or not at all. Any identifying information found, however sparse, is noted in the container list.