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Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall. Journal of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, 1955 : A Finding Aid

Peabody Museum Archives
Harvard University
October 2004


©2009 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University
Call No.: 2003.37
Location: Peabody Museum Archives
Title: Journal of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas 1955
Creator: Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (1931-)
Quantity: .2 linear foot (1 folder)
Abstract: The 150 page journal dates from July 4, 1955-August 14, 1955 and documents Thomas's observations of the !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert.

Processed by:

Beth Bayley Simmons College archives intern;

Acquisition Information:

These papers are a gift of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
December 2003

Access Restrictions:


Biographical Sketch

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, daughter of Lorna and Laurence Marshall, was born in 1931. She attended Smith College, but interrupted her studies to go to Africa when her father, former co-founder of Raytheon Corporation, retired and decided he wanted to get reacquainted with his family. In 1951, she traveled with her family to what is now Namibia, and the Marshalls undertook ethnographic research on the !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert.
Upon her return to America, she attended Radcliffe College and married Stephen Thomas. She had two children, and went on to write several works of fiction and nonfiction. Her first book, 1959's The Harmless People, was about her experience with the Kalahari Bushmen. She continued her writing and ethnographic research, spending a year in Uganda and writing Warrior Herdsman: The Story of the Dodoth Tribesmen of Northern Uganda (1965). Reindeer Moon (1987) and The Animal Wife (1990) are fiction about the Paleolithic Era, and she has also written The Hidden Life of Dogs (1993), The Tribe of the Tiger: Cats and their Culture (1994), and The Social Lives of Dogs: The Grace of Canine Company (2000).


Scope and Content Note

This journal dates from July 4, 1955 to August 14, 1955. It comprises 150 numbered pages, with the dated entries handwritten in ink and sometimes pencil, including some drawings in margins, and one loose sheet tucked in the front. There is also an index (for the first part only), and additional notes and quotations. Thomas also appears to have gone back and made corrections to her own writing, both of grammar and of content, often in different color ink.
In 1955, the Marshall family's research concerned the !Kung of Nyae Nyae and the /Gwi, !Ko, and Nharo in Botswana (according to Lorna's resume). The entries concern Thomas's observations about the people she encountered, their practices, and the natural surroundings, including plants, animals, and weather. She discusses their food preparation and customs, their dancing and their musical instruments, and their interactions with her family and with each other. She also discusses her feelings about the nature of anthropological study and about her homesickness. It is not the journal of someone who has just started doing fieldwork, but someone with a bit of experience—and the sensitive, vivid prose is that of someone who will become a published writer.

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