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Ralph Michelsen Seri papers, 1939 – 2006

MS 25 ; ASM Acc. 2000-259 and Acc. 2000-320

Creator: Ralph Michelsen, 1913 – 1996
Title: Ralph Michelsen
Inclusive Dates: 1939 – 2006
Quantity: 1 linear foot; 2 manuscript boxes
Abstract:Collection consists of manuscripts, publications, correspondence, and photographs relating to Seri Indian culture, particularly basket making.
Identification: MS 25 ; ASM Acc. 2000-259 and Acc. 2000-320
Language: English
Repository: Arizona State Museum
University of Arizona
PO Box 210026
Tucson, AZ 85721-0026
Phone: 520-621-4695

Biographical Note

Ralph Copeland Michelsen (b.1913-d.1996) was an ethnologist whose work centered in Southern California and Baja. He began spending time with the local indigenous people of Baja California in the 1950s while he resided there for a mining job. This began a life-long connection with the area and its people.

Dr. Michelsen was a general contractor until the age of 55 when he enrolled in the University of California at Irvine. Because of his extensive avocational fieldwork in the Southwest and Mexico, he began teaching classes at Irvine while working towards his PhD, which he received in 1991.

He was widely traveled throughout the Southwest and Mexico and was fluent in Spanish. His wife and daughter characterize his field style as “very casual and non-confrontational”. He didn’t ask a series of questions; rather, he engaged in conversation and obliquely solicited information. His principle areas of fieldwork were in Desemboque among the Seri, in Santa Catarina among the Paipai, and among the Luiseno of San Diego County, California.

Much of Michelsen’s published work is on the Paipai and Kiliwa cultures. Michelsen’s fieldwork among the Seri is just as extensive as that of the other populations he studied, but the work was never published.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of materials from Ralph Michelsen’s papers relating to the Seri Indians. It includes several manuscripts, research notes, publications, photographs and correspondence and collaborative notes with Edward Moser. Much of the material is documentation of Seri basket making, particularly in Desemboque. A small collection of photographs depicts ironwood carving. The archives collection contains photocopied reproductions of photographs now located in the Photo Collections of the Arizona State Museum.


Conditions Governing Access

Photographs dealing with sensitive cultural subjects may not be copied or reproduced without approval of ASM staff.

Access to specific information about the nature and location of archaeological resources may be restricted pursuant to the United States Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) and Arizona Revised Statues, Title 39-125. ARPA includes a specific exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements for information about the nature and location of archaeological resources (16 U.S. Code 470hh: Confidentiality of information concerning the nature and location of archaeological resources).

Conditions Governing Use

Requests to reproduce photographs in this collection should be discussed with the ASM Photo Collections Curator.

Controlled Access Terms

Personal Name(s)
Michelsen, Ralph C.
Moser, Edward W.

Indian wood-carving--Mexico
Paipai Indians
Seri Indians

Administrative Information

Related Materials

Non-Seri materials in the Michelsen papers as inventoried by Susan Lobo in 2004 were transferred to the Rupert Costo Library of the American Indian, Special Collections, in the Rivera Library of the University of California Riverside campus. These are described in a 49-page finding aid in folder number one of the ASM collection.

Preferred Citation

MS 25: Ralph Michelsen Seri Papers, Arizona State Museum Library and Archives.

Container List

Box 1: Materials open to research and reproduction
11 Finding aid for Michelsen Paipai Collection, prepared by Susan Lobo, 2004
12 Bibliography of Michelsen publications, prepared by Stephen O’Neil, 2006
13 Manuscripts: Seri Money
14 Manuscripts: Seri Basketry
15 Manuscripts: Basketry Booklet
16 Manuscripts: Some Successes and Failures of Community Development Projects in Two Band Level Societies
17 Publications: Seri basketry issue of The Kiva 38:3-4 (spring-summer 1973)
18 Publications: Logos Signum Publications, Paipai and Seri Utilitarian Crafts, 1977
19 Publications: Booklet for Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum exhibit, 1965
110 Miscellaneous research notes on Seri
111 Small notebook with miscellaneous notes
112 Manuscripts: “Bandas Seri” by Edward Moser, n.d. [in Spanish]
113 Correspondence: Edward and Becky Moser, 1966-1972
114 Correspondence: Thomas Bowen, 1968
115 Correspondence: Thomas Hinton, 1965
116 List of items sold to Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan
117 Photographs: Jose Astorga and family
118 Photographs: miscellaneous prints without accompanying negatives
Box 2: Materials open to research and reproduction
11 Photographs: Miscellaneous prints from accompanying negatives
12 “In Memoriam” obituary for Ralph C. Michelsen by Stephen O’Neil
13 Documents accompanying photographs
14 Photographs and negatives: Seri dolls and amulets
15 Photographs and negatives: Gathering torote
16 Photographs and negatives: Miscellaneous
17 Photographs and negatives: Near Desemboque, April 1965
18 Photographs and negatives: Seri spear purification
19 Photographs and negatives: Contact sheet of baskets
110 Photographs and negatives: Basketmaking
111 Photographs and negatives: Miscellaneous
112 Photographs and negatives: Miscellaneous
113 Photographs and negatives: Color snapshots
114 Photographs and negatives: Small photographs and negatives
115 Photographs and negatives: Photocopies of photographs
Box 2: Materials restricted due to sensitive cultural content
116 Photographs and negatives: Tree Burials, March 1966
117 Seri Basketry scrapbook from Desemboque, 1966 [photocopies]
118 Seri Basketry scrapbook from Desemboque, 1966. 1 of 4 [ORIGINAL]
119 Seri Basketry scrapbook from Desemboque, 1966. 2 of 4 [ORIGINAL]
120 Seri Basketry scrapbook from Desemboque, 1966. 3 of 4 [ORIGINAL]
121 Seri Basketry scrapbook from Desemboque, 1966. 4 of 4 [ORIGINAL]