Skip to main content

Ronald Cohen Papers

 Collection
Identifier: MS Group 142

Scope and Content

The Ronald Cohen Papers date from 1950 to 1996. The papers are primarily related to his research and anthropological field work in Nigeria, focusing on the ethnography and social structures of the Nigerians living in Borno (Bornu), particularly the Kanuri and Bura-Pabir speaking peoples. The bulk of the collection consists of field notes, oral histories, grant proposals, and interviews created while conducting field research from the 1950s to the 1980s. A large number of these documents were created by Nigerians working in the field with Cohen. In particular, a majority of the oral history interviews were conducted by individuals belonging to the same clans and families as the interview informants. These interviews, along with observations about the informants and villages, were recorded in field notebooks, many of which include drawings of tools and ceremonial objects, hand-drawn maps of villages, and sketches of houses and other structures. Several of these field notebooks have been transcribed in typescript format. In addition to these important oral histories, several files in the collection contain photographs, notes, and research materials created or collected by Cohen while in Nigeria.

The collection also includes an excellent representation of Cohen's published and unpublished writings, including journal articles, book contributions, monographs, reports, and reviews. Of course, a large a number of the publications pertain to Nigerian culture and the research Cohen conducted there over 30 years. Many of these writings exist in multiple versions, from early manuscript drafts to final typescripts and copies of publications and reprints. In addition, there are professional papers related to lectures, symposia, professional associations, consultancy, the Carter Lectures on Africa, and various academic departments in which Cohen served as a faculty member. There is very little material concerning Cohen's activities as an instructor at these academic institutions, but there is a small amount of correspondence with colleagues and students. The collection does not include many personal papers or items pertaining to Cohen's family life.

Dates

  • 1950-1996

Creator

Access

The collection is open for research.

Biographical Note

Ronald Cohen was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1930. In 1955, he married Diana B. Cohen. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1960. He served as Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Toronto from 1958 to 1961. In 1961, he accepted a position as Assistant Professor at McGill University. From 1963 to 1982 Cohen served as a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, including periods as Chair of the Department of Anthropology in the early 1970s and as Co-Director of the Program in Ethnography and Public Policy in the early 1980s. During the 1970s, he also took leave from Northwestern to serve as Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Ahmadu Bello University. Professor Cohen joined the faculty of the University of Florida's Department of Anthropology in 1982, where he served until his retirement in 1995.

Cohen's extensive field work includes four major research projects undertaken in Nigeria. In the mid-1950s, Cohen conducted ethnographic research examining social changes among the Kanuri of Borno in Northern Nigeria. In the late 1960s, he researched the high divorce frequency among the Kanuri. In the early 1970s, he conducted a large ethnographic study of the origins and structure of Babur-Bura society in Borno with a special emphasis on the spread of Islam and the split between the Babur (predominately Islamic) and the Bura groups in this region. In the mid-1980s, Cohen returned to Nigeria once again to examine the organization of food production in Nigerian agriculture, including farming scale and productivity.

At the time of his retirement from academics, Ronald Cohen had over 30 years of research experience in Nigeria and was widely known for his many publications on Nigerian culture, political anthropology, and development issues.

  • 1930 Born in Toronto, Canada
  • 1951 B.A. (Philosophy), University of Toronto
  • 1954 M.Sc. (Anthropology), University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • 1955 Weds Diana Barbara Williams
  • 1955-1957 Foreign Area Fellowship, Field Work in Borno, Nigeria
  • 1957-1958 John Evans Fellowship
  • 1958-1961 Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Toronto
  • 1960 Ph.D. (Anthropology), University of Wisconsin-Madison (Dissertation: "The Structure of Kanuri Society"
  • 1960-1963 Grant: Department of Northern Affairs, Ottawa, Development of the Mackenzie River, Canada (Field Work: 1961)
  • 1961-1963 Assistant Professor, McGill University Chair, African Students Foundation of Canada
  • 1962 Publication of book, A Survey of Communities of the McKenzie Valley
  • 1962-1997 Editor (associate), Anthropologica (including as Guest Editor of special issue on "Power in Complex Societies in Africa" in 1962)
  • 1962-1963 Founding Chairman, African Studies Association of Canada
  • 1963-1968 Associate Professor, Northwestern University
  • 1964-1965 Grant: NIMH, Pilot Study for Family Conflict in Borno
  • 1966-1968 Grant: National Science Foundation, Family Conflict in Borno
  • 1966-1970 Editor in charge of anthropology, African Abstracts
  • 1967 Publication of book, The Kanuri of Bornu Publication of book, Comparative Political Systems (edited with John Middleton)
  • 1967-1971 Board member, Central States Anthropological Association
  • 1968 Lecture tour of six African countries for Northwestern University Herskovits Memorial Lecture, University of Edinburgh
  • 1968-1972 Review Panel, NIMH (Behavioral Sciences)
  • 1968-1973 Grant (with others): Ford Foundation, National Unity in Africa
  • 1968-1982 Professor of Anthropology and Political Science, Northwestern University
  • 1970-1972 Chair, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University Assistant Editor, American Anthropologist
  • 1971 Publication of book, Dominance and Defiance: A Study of Marital Instability in an Islamic African Society Publication of book, From Tribe to Nation in Africa (edited with John Middleton) Publication of book, Handbook of Method in Cultural Anthropology (edited with R. Narroll)
  • 1972-1974 Grant: NSF, NEH and Rockefeller, Origins of the State in Borno and Gongola, Nigeria (Field Work in the Biu Division while at the University of Maiduguri) Chair, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Ahmadu Bello University (on leave from Northwestern)
  • 1972-1982 Co-Editor (with John Paden) of the series, Studies in Political Culture, Northwestern University Press
  • 1973-1974 Consultant to Udoji Commission on Nigeria's Federal Public Services
  • 1974-1975 Associate Editor, Political Anthropology
  • 1975-1977 Consultant, National Academy of Sciences, evaluation of ETIP division of the Department of Commerce
  • 1976-1977 Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto (Stanford)
  • 1977-1979 Consultant, IPA, for the Master Plan, New Federal Capital of Nigeria
  • 1978 Publication of book: Origins of the State (edited with E.R. Service)
  • 1979-1982 Grant (with others): Ford Foundation, Drought in East Africa
  • 1980 Publication of book: Hierarchy and Society (edited with G. Britan)
  • 1980-1981 Co-Director, Northwestern University Program in Ethnography and Public Policy
  • 1980-1982 Review Panel, National Science Foundation
  • 1980-1984 Grant (with others): NIMH, Training Program in Anthropology for Policy Analysis and Research
  • 1981-1983 Executive Board, Central States Anthropological Association
  • 1982-1995 Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida
  • 1983-1984 Grant: National Science Foundation, African Studies (UF), Production and Organization in Nigerian Agriculture (Field Work in Borno)
  • 1983-1988 Board member, Association of Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA)
  • 1984-1985 Fulbright-Hays Research Grant, Production and Organization in Nigerian Agriculture
  • 1984-1986 Appointed to joint USA-USSR working group of scholars to develop cooperative research on ethnicity and state formation
  • 1985-1988 Appointed by International Union of Ethnological and Anthropological Sciences to plan Symposia on peace at Zagreb meeting
  • 1985-1990 Carter Lectures on Africa (Ronald Cohen, Chair): Ford Foundation, African Studies Center Grant, Ford Foundation for Human Rights
  • 1987 Publication of book: The Kanuri of Borno (revised edition) Distinguished Lecture: Annual Meeting, Society for Cross-Cultural Research Keynote Address: Annual Meeting, Society for Economic Anthropology
  • 1988 Publication of book: State Formation and Political Legitimacy (edited with J. Toland) Publication of book: Satisfying Africa's Food Needs: Food Production and Commercialization in African Agriculture Consultant to AID on Research Methods: USAID training and its effects on bureaucratic agency developmental results (Nepal and Kenya) Symposium in Honor of Ronald Cohen, African Studies Association Meetings, Chicago
  • 1988-1989 President elect, APLA Appointed to the Staley Prize Committee to choose best book in Anthropology
  • 1988-1990 Review Panel, IIE, Fulbright Grants for doctoral research in Africa
  • 1989-1990 President, APLA
  • 1990 Keynote Address: Conference on Rural Transformation in Africa, Ohio State University Grant (with others): Ford Foundation, Human Rights and Governance in Africa
  • 1991-1992 Board Member, APLA
  • 1992-[1994] Co-Chair of the Board of Directors with Dele Olowu of "Transition to Democracy in Nigeria" Project, UF and Obafemi Awolowo University
  • 1992-1995 Grant: USIA, Democratization in Nigeria
  • 1993 Publication of book: Human Rights and Governance in Africa (with G. Hyden) One of two North American scholars (from Yale and UF) invited to the second international symposium on evolutionary epistemology, Vienna
  • 1995 Retirement from the University of Florida
  • 2018 Passed away in Micanopy, Florida
1930
Born in Toronto, Canada
1951
B.A. (Philosophy), University of Toronto
1954
M.Sc. (Anthropology), University of Wisconsin-Madison
1955
Weds Diana Barbara Williams
1955-1957
Foreign Area Fellowship, Field Work in Borno, Nigeria
1957-1958
John Evans Fellowship
1958-1961
Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Toronto
1960
Ph.D. (Anthropology), University of Wisconsin-Madison (Dissertation: "The Structure of Kanuri Society"
1960-1963
Grant: Department of Northern Affairs, Ottawa, Development of the Mackenzie River, Canada (Field Work: 1961)
1961-1963
Assistant Professor, McGill University
Chair, African Students Foundation of Canada
1962
Publication of book, A Survey of Communities of the McKenzie Valley
1962-1997
Editor (associate), Anthropologica (including as Guest Editor of special issue on "Power in Complex Societies in Africa" in 1962)
1962-1963
Founding Chairman, African Studies Association of Canada
1963-1968
Associate Professor, Northwestern University
1964-1965
Grant: NIMH, Pilot Study for Family Conflict in Borno
1966-1968
Grant: National Science Foundation, Family Conflict in Borno
1966-1970
Editor in charge of anthropology, African Abstracts
1967
Publication of book, The Kanuri of Bornu
Publication of book, Comparative Political Systems (edited with John Middleton)
1967-1971
Board member, Central States Anthropological Association
1968
Lecture tour of six African countries for Northwestern University
Herskovits Memorial Lecture, University of Edinburgh
1968-1972
Review Panel, NIMH (Behavioral Sciences)
1968-1973
Grant (with others): Ford Foundation, National Unity in Africa
1968-1982
Professor of Anthropology and Political Science, Northwestern University
1970-1972
Chair, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University
Assistant Editor, American Anthropologist
1971
Publication of book, Dominance and Defiance: A Study of Marital Instability in an Islamic African Society
Publication of book, From Tribe to Nation in Africa (edited with John Middleton)
Publication of book, Handbook of Method in Cultural Anthropology (edited with R. Narroll)
1972-1974
Grant: NSF, NEH and Rockefeller, Origins of the State in Borno and Gongola, Nigeria (Field Work in the Biu Division while at the University of Maiduguri)
Chair, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Ahmadu Bello University (on leave from Northwestern)
1972-1982
Co-Editor (with John Paden) of the series, Studies in Political Culture, Northwestern University Press
1973-1974
Consultant to Udoji Commission on Nigeria's Federal Public Services
1974-1975
Associate Editor, Political Anthropology
1975-1977
Consultant, National Academy of Sciences, evaluation of ETIP division of the Department of Commerce
1976-1977
Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto (Stanford)
1977-1979
Consultant, IPA, for the Master Plan, New Federal Capital of Nigeria
1978
Publication of book: Origins of the State (edited with E.R. Service)
1979-1982
Grant (with others): Ford Foundation, Drought in East Africa
1980
Publication of book: Hierarchy and Society (edited with G. Britan)
1980-1981
Co-Director, Northwestern University Program in Ethnography and Public Policy
1980-1982
Review Panel, National Science Foundation
1980-1984
Grant (with others): NIMH, Training Program in Anthropology for Policy Analysis and Research
1981-1983
Executive Board, Central States Anthropological Association
1982-1995
Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida
1983-1984
Grant: National Science Foundation, African Studies (UF), Production and Organization in Nigerian Agriculture (Field Work in Borno)
1983-1988
Board member, Association of Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA)
1984-1985
Fulbright-Hays Research Grant, Production and Organization in Nigerian Agriculture
1984-1986
Appointed to joint USA-USSR working group of scholars to develop cooperative research on ethnicity and state formation
1985-1988
Appointed by International Union of Ethnological and Anthropological Sciences to plan Symposia on peace at Zagreb meeting
1985-1990
Carter Lectures on Africa (Ronald Cohen, Chair): Ford Foundation, African Studies Center Grant, Ford Foundation for Human Rights
1987
Publication of book: The Kanuri of Borno (revised edition)
Distinguished Lecture: Annual Meeting, Society for Cross-Cultural Research
Keynote Address: Annual Meeting, Society for Economic Anthropology
1988
Publication of book: State Formation and Political Legitimacy (edited with J. Toland)
Publication of book: Satisfying Africa's Food Needs: Food Production and Commercialization in African Agriculture
Consultant to AID on Research Methods: USAID training and its effects on bureaucratic agency developmental results (Nepal and Kenya)
Symposium in Honor of Ronald Cohen, African Studies Association Meetings, Chicago
1988-1989
President elect, APLA
Appointed to the Staley Prize Committee to choose best book in Anthropology
1988-1990
Review Panel, IIE, Fulbright Grants for doctoral research in Africa
1989-1990
President, APLA
1990
Keynote Address: Conference on Rural Transformation in Africa, Ohio State University
Grant (with others): Ford Foundation, Human Rights and Governance in Africa
1991-1992
Board Member, APLA
1992-[1994]
Co-Chair of the Board of Directors with Dele Olowu of "Transition to Democracy in Nigeria" Project, UF and Obafemi Awolowo University
1992-1995
Grant: USIA, Democratization in Nigeria
1993
Publication of book: Human Rights and Governance in Africa (with G. Hyden)
One of two North American scholars (from Yale and UF) invited to the second international symposium on evolutionary epistemology, Vienna
1995
Retirement from the University of Florida
2018
Passed away in Micanopy, Florida

Extent

10.25 Linear feet (33 Boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Includes field notes, published and unpublished writings, correspondence, and professional papers created by anthropologist, Ronald Cohen. The majority of the collection pertains to Nigerians in the state of Borno (Bornu), particularly the Kanuri and Bura-Pabir speaking peoples.

Arrangement

The Ronald Cohen Papers are divided into seven records series.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The Ronald Cohen Papers were donated by Ronald and Diana Cohen of Micanopy, Florida, in 1996. The collection was acquired through the assistance of Dan Reboussin. In 2012 Northwestern University transferred a small amount of materials that had been discovered in storage. These materials, which primarily relate to his field work in Nigeria, have been interfiled with existing materials in the collection.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of items in the Cohen collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Other Descriptive Data

Throughout the collection, Cohen uses African words, abbreviations, and words with variant spellings. For example, Borno is the current spelling of what was originally spelled Bornu. Cohen refers to the founder of the village or his descendant as the Village Head (VH) or the Lawan. There are wards or hamlets that are run by a Bulama, usually the head of the largest household in the area. There are several districts in Borno, each with a District Head (DH). The Shehu, or king, is a political/religious leader. A person who has studied the Koran is called a Malam. The Kanuri are a large ethnic group in Borno in northeastern Nigeria. Biu is in the southern portion of the Borno state. The peoples of Borno speak Bura-Pabir. Speakers of Bura are predominately non-Islamic, while speakers of Pabir (also known as Babur or Babir) are predominately Islamic.
Title
A Guide to the Ronald Cohen Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Finding aid prepared by John R. Nemmers and Dan Reboussin
Date
August 2004
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

Contact:
George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America
352-273-2755