Cover of one of Fürer-Haimendorf's field notebooks (detail)

Welcome to the selected field notes of Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf. The notes and documents presented here are centered around Fürer-Haimendorf's interest in the Sherpas of Nepal. Providing insight into the production of field data—the building blocks of the ethnographic endeavor—these paradigmatic excerpts from the work of an early master of the fieldwork tradition are worthy of study by anthropologists and students of anthropology in general, as well as by those with a particular interest in cultures of South Asia.

To introduce students to the extraordinary depth of the Fürer-Haimendorf archives, the field notes are arranged here into several modules for teaching, though they can also be accessed by scholars directly from the DART library. One module reveals the scope and detail of Fürer-Haimendorf's village survey, another covers his interest in the economic life of the Sherpas, while a third concerns itself with his documentation of a religious ceremony. Each module can serve as an independent unit, or they can function well as a series of assignments.

Biography

Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf was born on June 22, 1909, in Vienna, Austria. He studied anthropology in Vienna under the tutelage of scholars of the Kulturkreis school. He was a prolific fieldworker, amassing an impressive archive of material on South Asian groups, with a particular focus on Nepal and northeastern India.

While conducting postdoctoral research at the London School of Economics, Fürer-Haimendorf became well acquainted with many of the leading lights of British anthropology, including Bronislaw Malinowski, Raymond Firth, Meyer Fortes, and Audrey Richards. World War II broke out while he was on his second field trip in India, and like Malinowski before him, Fürer-Haimendorf was arrested as an enemy alien. Confined to Hyderabad State for the duration of the war, he undertook extensive fieldwork among the inhabitants of that region. Upon returning to Europe in 1949, he began his fruitful tenure at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, where he served as chair of a growing anthropology department between 1950 and 1975. After a long and influential career, Fürer-Haimendorf died on June 11, 1995.

Concerns and Commitments

Fürer-Haimendorf first visited Nepal in 1953, shortly after it was opened to foreign travelers, and he returned several times during the next two decades. During these visits he received crucial assistance from one of Nepal's first indigenous anthropologists, Dor Bahadur Bista, as well as from his wife Elizabeth (Betty) Fürer-Haimendorf (excerpt from video interview with Fürer-Haimendorf).

In addition to providing a valuable window onto the fieldwork endeavor, the Sherpa field documents assembled here also illustrate some of the assumptions and concerns of the discipline of anthropology in Fürer-Haimendorf's day. For example, he pointed out that his work was of a neutral character and that consequently there was no danger of his becoming involved in a delicate political situation (letter to the king of Bhutan). Further, he evidenced the concern felt by many anthropologists of his era that the societies under study were in danger of becoming radically changed or even disappearing in the face of a modernizing world-a concern memorably expressed, for example, by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (excerpt from Tristes Tropiques). This was, indeed, one of the ethical concerns that drove the work of Fürer-Haimendorf. He felt that Sherpa culture might even be in need of assistance in order to preserve itself (Tengboche Cultural Center proposal; excerpt from video interview).

Finally, it is worth highlighting Fürer-Haimendorf's rigorous commitment to the gathering of ethnographic facts. Throughout his notes, numerous places may be found where he has crossed out information and replaced it with new information that he believes is more correct (notebook 8, p. 86). He also maintained an extensive cross-referencing system, both within his field notebooks (notebook 8, p. 97) and between his Sherpa dictionary and the locations in his field notes where the words defined in it appear (dictionary page). Haimendorf was committed to field documentation as an ongoing enterprise to be returned to again and again, in the pursuit of more and more perfect knowledge (excerpt from video interview).


With the exception of Fürer-Haimendorf's photographs and movies, all of his field materials are housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies Library (SOAS) in London. We extend our sincere thanks to Susannah Rayner, chief archivist at the SOAS Library; to Nicholas Haimendorf, Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf's son and the holder of copyright to his father's materials; to Alan Macfarlane, Professor of Anthropology, Cambridge University and creator of Anthropological Ancestors; and to Glenn Ratcliff, digital photographer, for making this endeavor possible.