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Featured Resource: The Paula H. Foster Collection

March 8th, 2023

in African Studies Library


The African Studies Library at the BU Libraries houses collections by and about women within African Studies. We are highlighting some of these collections through the month of March in honor of Women’s History Month. Care to learn more? Stop by the African Studies Library on the 6th floor of the Mugar Memorial Library to investigate them for yourself!

Paula H. Foster, in a white sleeveless top and long blue skirt, sits on the ground, leaning back on a rocky sloped terrain.

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.