ASL Featured Resource: The Paula H. Foster Collection

The African Studies Library houses collections by and about women within African Studies. We will highlight some of these collections weekly through the month of March in honor of Women’s History Month. Care to learn more? You are welcome to stop by the African Studies Library to investigate them for yourself!

Paula Hirsch Foster lived and conducted research among Acholi of northern Uganda between 1954 and 1958 while a doctoral student at Northwestern University. Paula taught at University of Chicago and passed away in 1997 having never completed her Ph.D. dissertation. This archive contains all of her known field notes, films, and slides, and several drafts of her Ph.D. dissertation. Her research aimed to:

“trace the life course of rural dwelling female Acholi from birth to marriage. She clearly aimed for a mix of representativeness and contextual richness: rather than concentrating on just a single individual, or a wide randomized scattering of informants in survey style, she discussed the typical while noting exceptions, illustrating her points with particular life cases chosen from different phases of the life course.

Her remarkable ethnography, in the notes and the draft dissertation, offers a general yet personalized overview of Acholi culture, telling something about most aspects of the lives of males as well as females. One learns in them the norms and conventions, but also the twists, turns, and dilemmas of particular personal histories. Evidently she had intended to bring the dissertation up to the point of a woman’s death (and symbolic rebirth through renaming, inheritance, and other means).” (Source: Parker Shipton, Foster Collection Finding Guide)

Paula’s most complete dissertation draft and the finding aid to her papers are available on OpenBU. You can access Paula’s field notes physically in the African Studies Library.