Fonds UBCA-ARC-1462 - David Aberle fonds

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David Aberle fonds

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  • Textual record
  • Photographic material

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  • 1897-1996; predominant 1940-1993 (Creation)
    Aberle, David

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Physical description

8.41 m of textual records
1582 photographs

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Name of creator


Biographical history

David F. Aberle was an American anthropologist and author. Born in 1918 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Aberle completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Columbia University in 1947. After returning from a stint overseas during World War II, Aberle began teaching at Harvard University between 1947 and 1950. Having worked in New Mexico studying the Navajo and Hopi for two summers in 1949 and 1950, Aberle worked for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in Window Rock, Arizona, where he developed an enduring interest in Navajo culture and land rights in the Southwestern United States.
Pursuing extensive field research in Arizona in the 1960s and into the 1970s and 1980s, Aberle studied Navajo kinship patterns, economic development and the Peyote religion among the Navajo. He also became an active participant in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute before the American courts in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, centred on the issues surrounding historical land occupation, removal to Reservation lands, land use and grazing rights between the Navajo and Hopi tribes in Arizona. Aberle collaborated on various exploratory reports on the subject and participated in an American Anthropological Association Ad Hoc Panel on Navajo-Hopi land claims, making recommendations to the courts and government agencies involved in the case.
From 1952 to 1960, Aberle taught in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Michigan, moving to Brandeis University in 1961 and the University of Oregon in 1963. Aberle and his wife, Kathleen Gough Aberle, also a professor at Brandeis and Oregon, left the United States in the wake of some controversy surrounding Gough's stated position regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis, which Aberle supported. Both Gough and Aberle were known to have Marxist leanings and openly challenged the U.S.'s position toward Cuba and the war in Vietnam and actively sought university postings in Canada. Moving to Vancouver, Aberle taught at UBC in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology from 1967, becoming Professor Emeritus in 1984.
The contributor to several volumes, and author of many essays and articles, in 1962, Aberle published the book Chahar and Dagor Mongol Bureaucratic Administration: 1912-1945. In 1966, Aberle published The Peyote Religion among the Navajo and in 1974, he published Lexical Reconstruction: The Case of the Proto-Athapaskan Kinship System with Isidore Dyen. The majority of Aberle's academic career was focused on his work with the Navajo in the Southwestern U.S. David Aberle died in 2004.

Custodial history

Maintained in storage after David Aberle's death by his son Stephen, and donated to the University Archives in 2008.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of material related to David Aberle's research activities, academic work and writing. It includes the notebooks and journals of his fieldwork beginning in 1940-41 and continuing through 1991. These consist primarily of field notes and other notes made during and after those trips. The vast majority of this material relates to Aberle's work with the Navajo in Arizona. The fonds also includes notes, articles, data and codes relating to Aberle's research into kinship and language among the Navajo, Mongols and Athapaskans, and extensive research into Navajo culture and economy. The fonds also includes correspondence on a variety of academic subjects, including Aberle's teaching materials from UBC's Department of Anthropology and Sociology. His work includes several reports written as part of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute. The fonds includes research notes for many of Aberle's essays and articles, as well as chapters and appendixes of his books.

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Photographs have not been digitized and are located in the archives vault at series UBC 149.1.

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