Fonds 377 - Nancy O. Lurie fonds

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Nancy O. Lurie fonds

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  • Textual record

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  • 1959-1967 (Creation)
    Lurie, Nancy Oestreich

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35 cm of textual material

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Biographical history

Nancy Oestreich Lurie was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 29, 1924, the only child of Carl Ralph Oestreich and Rayline Danielson Oestreich. Her father served on the engineering faculty at the University of Wisconsin and also volunteered at the Milwaukee Public Museum and engendered Nancy's early interest in anthropology and museology. Lurie received her Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and sociology from the University of Wisconsin in 1945, her Masters from the University of Chicago in 1947 and went on to receive her PhD from Northwestern University in 1952.

Lurie's fieldwork included work with the Wisconsin Winnebagos during her undergraduate studies. She focused her research on culture change and on teaching white society respect and fairness toward Aboriginal peoples, and this would persist as a theme in her professional work. The Winnebagos continued to be research partners through her career.

Lurie's doctoral work at Northwestern University from 1948-1952 compared culture change in the Wisconsin and Nebraska Winnebagos and combined ethnohistorical research with fieldwork. At Northwestern she met and then married Edward Lurie in 1951; they divorced amicably in 1963.

Between 1954-1957, Lurie worked as an expert witness on seven cases for the United States Indian Claims Commission and in 1957, she began teaching applied anthropology at the University of Michigan, where she obtained a tenure-tracked position in 1961. Between 1961-1962 Lurie also served as Sol Tax's assistant in the American Indian Chicago Conference, which involved ninety tribes gathering to draft the Declaration of Indian Purpose, later presented to President John F. Kennedy. Lurie's work with Sol Tax and his 'action anthropology' methodology gave her a national profile.

Starting in 1959, Lurie conducted fieldwork in the Northwest Territories with fellow Chicago graduate student June Helm. Together they worked with the Tłı̨chǫ, making trips to Behchokǫ̀ (Rae) and Wha Ti (Lac La Martre) in 1959, 1962 and 1967.

In 1963, Lurie joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as associate professor, where her first major task was establishing a Masters program with a certificate option in museology in collaboration with the Milwaukee Public Museum. She was promoted to professor three years later and was department chair from 1967-1970, when she helped to establish a doctoral program in anthropology. In 1972, Lurie fulfilled a childhood aspiration and became curator and head of the anthropology section of the Milwaukee Public Museum, where she worked until her retirement in 1993. She continued to serve as a volunteer there until 2015.

Throughout her career, Lurie was committed to the four-field tradition of anthropology in teaching and museum work. The emphasis in her own specialty of cultural anthropology was on community consultation, local control of development plans, respect for her consultants, training Native American scholars and educating mainstream society to respect Native American person and traditions. Her many honours and accomplishments include being a Fullbright-Hays lecturer at the University of Aarhus, Denmark from 1965-1966, and President of the American Anthropological Association in 1982.

In retirement, Lurie lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She passed away on May 13, 2017.

Custodial history

Scope and content

This fonds consists of approximately 35 cm of textual material comprised of correspondence and field research related to Nancy Lurie's ethnographic research with the Tłı̨chǫ (Dogrib) in Behchokǫ̀ (Rae) and Wha Ti (Lac La Martre), NWT. The correspondence dates from 1959-1963 and includes letters to and from June Helm, Susan Messerly and Nancy Lurie regarding fieldwork in Lac La Martre and Rae, as well as correspondence between Nancy Lurie and her husband Edward Lurie, written while she was doing fieldwork in 1959. In addition, there are letters from Alexis Nitsiza and Elsie Simpson that were written to Nancy Lurie while they were attending residential school in Yellowknife and in Fort Smith, as well as several handwritten notes requesting items such as sugar, tobacco and flour that were delivered to Nancy Lurie and June Helm by children in Lac La Martre. The remaining textual material consists of Lurie’s field notes and research papers from her ethnological research that was undertaken in Lac La Martre and Rae in 1959 and 1967. There are also index cards arranged by subject containing handwritten notes and observations made during Lurie’s field research.

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      Permission of the Territorial Archivist required for access to correspondence and field research.

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