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Manitoba History: Book Review: A. Irving Hallowell, Contributions to Ojibwe Studies: Essays 1934-1972 Edited and with Introductions by Jennifer S. H. Brown and Susan Elaine Gray

by Laura Peers
University of Oxford

Manitoba History, Number 67, Winter 2012

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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A. Irving Hallowell, Contributions to Ojibwe Studies: Essays 1934–1972 Edited and with Introductions by Jennifer S. H. Brown and Susan Elaine Gray, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010, 664 pages, ISBN 978-0-8032-2391-2, $50.00 (paperback)

This volume might usefully be seen as part of an unofficial set of works about anthropologist A. I. Hallowell, Chief William Berens, and the Ojibwe of the Berens River area. Hallowell and Berens worked together from 1930–1940, and Hallowell drew on the material he collected during those years until his death in 1974. The present volume comprises a most interesting group of Hallowell’s essays, all on Berens River and the Ojibwe. It follows a 2009 volume, also edited by Brown and Gray, Memories, Myths, and Dreams of an Ojibwe Leader: William Berens, as told to A. Irving Hallowell, which focused on William Berens and the stories and information he provided Hallowell. Introductory and editorial material in both the 2009 volume and the present one place Hallowell, Berens, and their work together within the context of the regional history of the Berens River Ojibwe, and of anthropological interests and Hallowell’s career.

Hallowell’s writings on the Ojibwe range from detailed observations to much broader analyses, from notes on material culture to interpretations of Ojibwe religion, and to the occasional topic we might now regard as a scholarly red herring. This volume includes essays on Rorschach tests and psychosexual pathology; the now-dated Freudian and clinical terminology of these articles seems both inappropriate and a barrier to understanding in a way that the language and thinking in the important essays on Ojibwe religion and worldview do not. It is certainly worth considering Hallowell’s entire oeuvre through the lens of his work on the Ojibwe, though; many of his ideas remain foundational for Ojibwe studies and for aspects of anthropology more widely.

Jennifer S. H. Brown and Susan Elaine Gray have done careful and sensitive work in editing this volume. Their notes, interspersed with Hallowell’s original endnotes, and their section introductions provide excellent contextual material to understand the essays and the development of Hallowell’s interests. The editors have included a thoughtful Ojibwe glossary and an index to Ojibwe names which adds considerable information on the people Hallowell mentions. The editing supports Hallowell’s essays and works with them to make this an important reference work for the region and for the history of anthropology.

Brown and Gray’s editing highlights a fascinating aspect of Hallowell’s work: the intersection of Berens’ contributions with Hallowell’s anthropological interpretation. Their notes relate particular points in Hallowell’s essays to stories told him by William Berens, for instance. That there is a book focused on Berens and another focused on Hallowell says much about the history of anthropology, and the intellectual ties—and distance—between such scholars. It would be especially interesting to see more of Berens’ Ojibwe explications of certain topics juxtaposed with Hallowell’s analyses of them.

Percy Berens, William’s son, recalled that “there was very high mutual respect” between his father and Hallowell, and that not only would Hallowell write Berens’ stories down, “he would understand them” (2009: xxii). Certain definitions in the Ojibwe glossary suggest that there were concepts that Hallowell might not quite have understood, and I wonder if Berens would have understood some of Hallowell’s interpretations of Ojibwe culture. Nevertheless, that there was an extraordinary and productive relationship between them is made very clear in both Hallowell’s writing, and in the editorial content of this volume.

Page revised: 2 January 2017

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