In a paper that I published in 2002, I drew upon unpublished ethnographic notes compiled in 1940-1941 by then University of Pennsylvania graduate student Robert R. Solenberger. Solenberger was a student of Frank G. Speck and others on the faculty at Penn. The notes that I drew upon in my paper are part of the Speck Papers at the American Philosophical Society. I have today been working on a new paper that draws upon the same unpublished manuscript by Solenberger. In 2000, when I was working on the paper mentioned above, I was able to track down Professor Solenberger in retirement in Tuscon, AZ and to speak with him on the phone about his graduate studies and the materials that I was then drawing upon.
Taking up work on a new project based on his notes, I went online tonight to see what more I could learn about Solenberger’s career. I learned that he passed away (in his 90s) a few years ago. I found various bits of information on his life, work, and history, but did not find a professional obituary. Based on the information that I pieced together tonight, I offer the following brief sketch.
Robert R. Solenberger (1916-2006) earned a M.A. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 with a thesis on “An Interpretation of Material on the Anthropology of East Africa Based upon Mediaeval Arabic Writers.” and was on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bloomsburg State College (now Bloomsburg University). He published a prominent series of articles focused on the Marianas Islands, where he worked in the 1950s. (These appeared in Human Organization, Anthropological Linguistics, and Oceania, among other outlets.) During his graduate training, he participated in archaeological research at Clovis, New Mexico in 1937 (under the direction of John L. Cotter). He was a Quaker and a conscientious objector during World War II.
My sources include published works discoverable via Google Scholar and the Internet Archive, as well as the following Google discoveries:
He appears on the AAA Honor Roll of Donors in the last years of his life, but I could find no professional obituary in a AAA publication or elsewhere. A Society of Friends memorial sketch is available.
It was an honor to speak with this anthropology elder early in 2000. I record here my thanks for his kindness and his interest in my work. I also express appreciation for his work, including the six pages of Southeastern Indian ethnography that he compiled in 1940 while on a road trip with through Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.
Rest in Peace.
(Additions and corrections to this sketch are very welcome.)