University of Rochester

Book Collection of Anthropologists Enhances Iceland Library

December 29, 2005

About 3,400 book titles from the personal library of two University of Rochester anthropologists have been presented to the National and University Library of Iceland through the donors' long friendship with one of their graduate students.

The collection of Alfred and Grace Gredys Harris was officially given to the library in Reykjavik, Iceland, at a ceremony in November. Sigríður Dúna Kristmundsdóttir, a former doctoral student of the Harrises who received her Ph.D. from the University of Rochester and is now a professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland, organized the logistics with help from friends in Rochester and in Iceland.

The Harrises collected many anthropological works during their decades of study and teaching, and many of the titles are now difficult to obtain. The collection is particularly strong in social anthropology and in African anthropology, which were specialties of the Harrises. More than 40 journals, including some complete sets, were included as well as history texts and social sciences in general.

"We knew that in Iceland people have a great respect for books and we could be sure that our books could be well taken care of and well used," said Grace Harris, professor emerita of anthropology and of religion at the University of Rochester.

Both the Harrises made anthropology their life's work. Alfred Harris and Grace Gredys met while studying in the University of Chicago's graduate program in anthropology during the 1940s. They were married in 1948 and the next year moved to England to study at Oxford University. From 1950 to 1952, they did fieldwork together on the Taita of Kenya, and later they received their doctorates in anthropology from Cambridge University.

When they returned to the United States, Alfred joined the faculty of Smith College; Grace was on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They taught at Brandeis University for the 1960-61 academic year, and then began their long careers at the University of Rochester later in 1961.

The anthropologists are credited with helping to launch the doctoral program in anthropology at Rochester in 1963. Mr. Harris served as chairman of the anthropology department from 1964 to 1971. In 1977, Mrs. Harris was appointed chair of the department. Both of them continued at Rochester until they retired. Alfred Harris died in 2001.

For an island country like Iceland, students and faculty depend on international interlibrary loans, which are expensive. The Harrises' donation is seen as particularly valuable because it brings to the island one copy of many works not previously held by any Icelandic library. Not only will it be used by the University of Iceland's anthropology department, but by other Icelandic scholars in the social sciences and humanities.

Kristmundsdóttir made the presentation of the library collection at a ceremony on Nov. 11. Sigrún Klára Hannesdóttir, director of the National and University Library of Iceland, expressed the institution's gratitude for the gift. In 2006, Kristmundsdóttir will begin an appointment as Iceland's ambassador to South Africa.