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Walter A. Fairservis papers

2012

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

Repository:
University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
Creator:
Fairservis,, Walter A., 1921-1994
Title:
Walter A. Fairservis papers
Date [bulk]:
1989-1990
Date [inclusive]:
1989-1994
Call Number:
2012
Extent:
0.6 linear foot (The Walter A. Fairservis papers are in two archival boxes. There are twenty-one folders of material including photographs by Vivian and Irene Bose)
Language:
English
Abstract:
Walter A. Fairservis, anthropologist, curator, author, actor, director, and playwright served as Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Vassar College and surveyed and excavated in sites in Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. He published books on the roots of the Harappan civilization as well as the seals and signs of the Indus written language among other topics. Fairservis was also known as a curator, having planned the "Hall of Asian Peoples" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The Walter A. Fairservis papers consist of eight folders of his records and thirteen folders of photographs of the Rabari people of Gujarat, India taken by Vivian and Irene Bose. There are folders of correspondence, proposals, research in Harappan script and the Na'rmr Palette, some slides and plates for a contribution to a book by Robert W. Ehrich among the Fairservis materials.
PDF Version:

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Biography/History

Walter A. Fairservis, anthropologist, curator, author, actor, director, and playwright was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1924, the son of Edith Yeager and Walter A. Fairservis. His mother was an actress who performed in traveling productions, often with her son in tow. Walter was also a childhood performer in theater, radio and television. He apprenticed with The Group Theater in New York and spent several years in Chicago with the Salisbury Shakespeare Company.

Fairservis appeared with Orson Welles'Mercury Theater and worked closely with newsman Charles Collingswood as a writer for the television programs Odyssey and  Adventure. Fairservis evidenced an interest in anthropology and archaeology early in life and, at the age of sixteen, ran away to Egypt and India where he lived for a time as a butler for a wealthy woman before returning to his family. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army rising to the rank of Lieutenant in the Intelligence Branch. Following his Army service, he enrolled at Columbia University where he attained both his B.A. and M.A. degrees. His scholarship was broad based, including China, Egypt and South Asia, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Fairservis began his archaeological work as an independent field archaeologist with the First Afghan Expedition in 1949 in the Quetta Valley of Pakistan. He returned in August 1950 as the Director of the Second Afghan Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History staying until May of 1951. During this year he surveyed a number of sites in the Quetta-Pishin Valley, the best known being Kili Ghul Mohammad and Damb Sadaat, this becoming the basis for his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard University. He also served as project director for the initial season at Heirakonpolis in Egypt. Later in his career, Fairservis surveyed the area in southwest Sind province. His excavations at the site of Allahdino although completed were not written up due to his final illness.

Dr. Fairservis' teaching career started at the University of Washington where he also served as a curator at the Thomas Burke Washington State Museum. Later, he was chosen by Harry L. Shapiro to be a curator at the American Museum of Natural History where he planned the "Hall of Asian Peoples" exhibit. The remainder of his teaching career was spent at Vassar College as Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology where he won numerous awards for teaching excellence.

A prolific writer, Fairservis' most well known book is The Roots of Ancient India. His curiosity and energy also influenced his choice of devoting time to an understanding of the script of the ancient Indus Civilization. The result of this was the book  Harappan Civilization and its Writing.

Dr. Fairservis used his interest and gifts in the theater throughout his lifetime. In addition to acting, he wrote and directed plays, and founded and managed The Sharon Playhouse near his home in Sharon, Connecticut. Fairservis' plays were produced at university theaters, off Broadway and at his theater in Connecticut. His theatrical works include Drums at Yale,  The Pyramid,  Edith,  Marud,  Once We Laughed Together, and  The History of the United States as told by Local 49 of the Hot Dog Vendors Union of America.

Walter A. Fairservis passed away on July 12,1994. He is remembered in the Festscrift volume, South Asian Archaeolgy Studies dedicated to him by his colleagues.

Scope and Contents

Walter A. Faiservis was born in Brooklyn New York in 1924, the son of Edith Yaeger, an actress, and Walter A. Fairservis, Sr. As a child, he traveled with his mother and also performed in theater, radio and television. Fairservis apprenticed with The Group Theater in New York and spent several years in Chicago with the Salisbury Shakespeare Company. He served as a writer for network television and maintained his voice in the theater world throughout his lifetime.

Fairservis evidenced an interest in anthropology and archaeology early in life and, at the age of sixteen, ran away to Egypt and India where he lived for a time as a butler for a wealthy woman before returning to his family. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army rising to the rank of Lieutenant in the Intelligence Branch. He returned from the service to attend Columbia University for his Bachelor's and Master's degrees and to begin field work as an independent researcher with the First Afghan Expedition in 1949 in the Quetta Valley of Pakistan.

He returned to South Asia in August 1950 as the Director of the Second Afghan Expedition conducted by the American Museum of Natural History. During this year he surveyed a number of sites in the Quetta-Pishin Valley, the best known being Kili Ghul Mohammad and Damb Sadaat, this becoming the basis for his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard University. He also served as project director for the initial season at Heirakonpolis in Egypt. Later in his career, Fairservis surveyed the area in southwest Sind province. His excavations at the site of Allahdino although completed, were not written up due to his final illness.

A prolific writer, Fairservis' most well known book is The Roots of Ancient India His curiosity and energy influenced his choice of devoting time to an understanding of the script of the ancient Indus Civilization. The result of this was the book  Harappan Civilization and its Writing.

The Walter A. Fairservis papers consist of two archival boxes of materials which originated as a part of the papers of Gregory L. Possehl a former student, friend and colleague of Dr. Fairservis. There are eight folders of correspondence, proposals, research on Harappan script and the Na'rmr Palette, a few slides, and plates for a contribution to a book by Robert W. Ehrich. Additional photographs from the work of Vivian and Irene Bose on the nomadic Rabari people of Gujarat, India are a part of the collection. There are thirteen folders of these photographs. See the additional materials note for location of more information on Vivian and Irene Bose.

The series contains correspondence dated from 1/17/89 to 11/1/94 dealing with both Fairservis' professional and theatrical careers. The grant proposals for "archaeological research in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan" and for the Allahdino Project are present with publication materials related to Fairservis'work on the Na'rmr palette and seal interpretation.

Walter Fairservis donated a large number of lantern slides from the collection of the American Museum of Natural History. These photographs, taken by other scholars, depict areas all over the world. They are individually numbered and are housed in the general lantern slide collection in the Photo Archives.

Fairservis' contribution for a book by Robert W. Ehrich, Chronologies in Old World Archaeology published in 1993 are housed with the visual archives of the Gregory L. Possehl Indus Civilization papers.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives,  11/15/10

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Jody Rodgers

Revision Description

 2/8/12

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

For additional archival materials related to the Vivian and Irene Bose study of the Rabari people of Gujarat, India, see:

Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University Collection 2004.35 Fairservis, Walter A. Papers

19:36 Correspondence with Vivian and Irene Bose. 19.37 Photographs and correspondence from Vivian Bose. 19:38 Vivian Bose'manuscript on the Rabari with some notes and correspondence.

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Controlled Access Headings

Form/Genre(s)
  • Manuscripts for publication
  • Photographs
Geographic Name(s)
  • Egypt
  • Pakistan
Personal Name(s)
  • Bose, Irene Mott, b. 1899-d. 1974
  • Bose, Vivian (V.V.N.), Justice, b. 1891-d. 1983
  • Dales, George F.
  • Fairservis,, Walter A., 1921-1994
  • Kenoyer, Jonathan M.
  • Possehl, , Gregory L., Dr., b. 1941
Subject(s)
  • Indus Civilization
  • Rabaris

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Collection Inventory

Correspondence 1989-1994 (1 of 2).

Box

Correspondence (2 of 2).

1

Proposals 1989-1991 (1 of 2).

1

Proposals 1989-1991 (2 of 2).

1

"A revised view of the Na'rmr palette" 1989-1991.

1

Harappan Seals and Signs 1989-1991 (1 of 3).

1

Harappan Seals and Signs 1989-1991 2 of 3).

1

Harappan Seals and Signs 1989-1991 (3 of 3).

1

Borobudur 1963.

1

Vivian and Irene Bose photographs 1970.

Box

Kileshwar Gujarat.

1

Kutch Rabari men.

1

Kutch Rabari women.

1

Kutch Rabari work.

1

Kutch Rabari architecture.

2

Chorbauli forest.

2

Nagpur Rabari people.

2

Nagpur Andrew Mott photographs.

2

Korku funerary tablets.

2

Dhorda village, Banni district.

2

Waigaon, Wardha district.

2

Belgaon Rabari camp.

2

Koradih Nagpur district.

2