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Special Collections and University Archives

Finding Aid


Robert Plant Armstrong Papers
MsC 812
Collection Dates: 1970s-1984

Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.

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Use of Collections: The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.

Acquisition and Processing Information: John Buxton donated these papers in 1994.

Photographs: Box 1

Robert Plant Armstrong

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of papers from the academic and publishing career of Robert Plant Armstrong.

Biographical Note

Robert Plant Armstrong was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on May 19, 1919, to Clarence Warren and Dorothy Johanna (Green) Armstrong. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1940-1943. Armstrong received a BA in English at the University of Arizona in1944, an MA from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1946, and his Ph.D. in Anthropology at Northwestern University in 1957. He taught English at several colleges and universities, among them Montana State University, Bozeman(1946-1950), Balai Bahasa Inggeris,Jogjakarta, Indonesia (1955-1956), and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the summers of 1956-1957. He held several jobs in the book world, such as Traveler for the Houghton Mifflin Company (1945-1946), Field Editor for Harper & Bros., (1956-1958), Editor for Alfred A. Knopf  (1958-1959), and was director of publications at the University of Arizona Press, Tuscon (1959-1960) before becoming Director of Northwestern University Press in 1960. In 1967 he was also appointed as a Professor or Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. During these years, he accepted visiting appointments, including a Visiting Professorship of Art and Art history at State Univerisity of New York at Buffalo in the summer of 1970; Visiting Curator of African Art at the Buffalo Museum of Science, summer 1970; and Visiting Director of the University of Ibadan Press, 1972-1973.

Armstrong remained at Northwestern University Press for thirteen years, when he was fired in 1973 by the University administration while he was on leave at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. The cause and justification for his firing are unclear, but in the collection there is a manuscript  entitled "The Rise and Fall of Northwestern University Press" which discusses the problems which arise when the attempt is made to run a University Press on a business model. After leaving Northwestern he moved to the newly organized University of Texas at Dallas, serving in their Anthropology Department before moving to the College of Arts and Humanities, where he served until his death, of a brain tumor, in 1984.  While at Dallas, he was instrumental in formulating their Aesthetics curriculum.

Armstrong was also a collector of African Art and possessed a fine collection. He combined all his interests (writing, anthropology, and African art) in the publication, in 1971, of his most important work, The Affecting Presence: An Essay in Humanistic Anthropology. He published more books, such as Forms and Processes of African Sculpture and Wellspring: On the Myth and the Source of Culture. He also published many articles. He loved words in all their forms, and besides acting as publisher as well as writing books and articles, he served as editor and consulting editor for several journals, such as Book Forum. He also delighted in repartee and in the collection there are examples of the sometimes off-colored limericks he wrote, as well as some serious poetry. Words used to describe Armstrong from the transcript of his memorial service are "intellectual loner," "aesthetic philosopher," "humanistic anthropologist," and someone whose work was characterized by "a strong rejection of western ethnocentrism."

Armstrong died after a long and debilitating battle with cancer on August 9, 1984. His collection of African art was auctioned to provide a scholarship for students at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Related Materials

From some papers contained in this collection, it appears as if some papers were also donated to the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D. C.

Box Contents List

Box 1


--- Northwestern University

------ Northwestern University Press

--- Teaching

------ General
------ Anthropology and the arts
------ Graduate courses
------ Graduate students
------ Humanities seminar
------ Interdisciplinary studies
------ Modes of consciousness
------ MA Theses and MAT Casebooks
------ PhD MA Committees
------ PhD Theses and exams
------ Teaching load

--- University of Ibadan

--- University of Texas at Dallas

------ Aesthetic Studies
------ Appointment papers
------ Arts and Humanities Dean Recruitment
------ General
------ Humanities proposal
------ McDermott Library film catalog with films considered for use by RPA marked
------ Six year plan


--- Conservation
--- Correspondence
--- Exhibits
--- Inventories of RPA African art collection
--- Photographs of pieces in RPA's African art collection (taken at Bentons)
--- Photographs of pieces in RPA's African art collection (taken at the Field Museum)
--- Photographs of pieces in RPA's African art collection. 2 folders

--- A
--- B
--- C
--- D - F

Box 2

--- G
--- H
--- I
--- J - L
--- Letters of recommendation
--- M
--- N - P
--- R
--- S. Letter from the President of the Republique de Senegal is framed and too large for the folder. It is laid on top of the box.
--- T - V
--- W - Y
--- No last name or indecipherable

Miscellaneous. Including "A Dance for Robert Plant Armstrong" which is too large for the folder and is laid on top of the box.

--- Audio tape. 1/4 inch tape on a 7 inch reel-to-reel. Contents unknown

--- File of papers from Plant's time at the Ibadan University Press. Includes correspondence with Jeanne [Beemer], Dr. Rand Bishop, Joseph E. Black, Victoria Reifler Bricker, William C. Dowling, Joanne B. Eicher, Edmon T. Emeny, Janice Feldstein, The French Line, Eleanor Harman, Marshall Hayes, Jack Hopper, M. Jeanneret, D. Brigitte Jordan, Joanne Overing Kaplan, Mr. Ladimeji, David Luck, William McClung, John B. Putnam, Karl Reisman, Paul Richardson, Chirstie B. Schuetz, Charles Seeger and Dieter Christensen, James Stone, Charlie [no last name]. Also included are manuscripts for "The Creative life of an African Town: A Study of Oshogbo, Nigeria," "The Establishment of a State of Affairs in Discourse," holograph and typescript manuscripts for "Language as a Medium in the Study of Man," "From Communication to Discourse," grant proposal from Northwestern University Press to the National Endowment for the Arts, "Jimoh Buraimoh," "The Demise of the University Press," "The University Versus the University Press," "Discourse, the Significance of Being Human," "What IS African Art?" "Helping Africans Speak for Themselves: The Role of Linguistics," [Notes for A Trip to Africa], "The Arts of Africa: A Systemic View," "The Raymond Weiglus Collection" (incomplete) (presumably by RPA, but not noted on the publication), "Remarks To the Nigerian Publisher's Association." Also included are a couple of reviews for The Affecting Presence: An Essay in Humanistic Anthropology, as well as various other documents.

--- General


--- Curriculum vitae
--- Employment possibilities
--- Financial statements
--- Income taxes. 2 folders
--- Medical papers
--- Miscellaneous
--- Death of Robert Plant Armstrong
--- Photographs, including of Armstrong's house in Dallas
--- Royalties
--- Stamps
--- Trinkle estate
--- Will

Box 3


--- Articles for RPA's research. 5 folders
--- Africa and colonialism
--- African Art
--- American culture
--- Levi-Strauss
--- "Market" [for books in Nigeria]. Unknown author
--- Miscellaneous notes
--- Moreme
--- "Question: What is the Myth in Myths?"
--- Rainer -- On Metaphors
--- Reading lists and bibliographies
--- Research grants
--- Soyinka
--- Statistics. 2 folders
--- Writing as a topic

Box 4


Note: These are typescript manuscripts unless otherwise noted

--- "Aesthetic Program"

--- The Affecting Presence

------ As a seminar at Indiana University
------ Contact sheet for photos under consideration for inclusion in the book
------ Memoranda of agreement
------ Photographs used in the book
------ Photographs not used in the book
------ Production correspondence
Reviews and letters. 3 folders
------ Slides of photos under considerations for inclusion in

--- The Affecting Presence in the Time-Space Ambient

--- African Art. "Yoruba Art." Agreement

--- The African Experience, Vol. III: Bibliography. Letter of agreement

--- "The Anatomy of the Mythoform"

--- "The Ancestor and the District Officer: Remarks on Contemporary Nigerian Literature"

--- "The Arts of Africa: A Systemic View"

--- "The Characteristics and Comprehension of A National Literature - Nigeria"

--- "The College and Interdisciplinary Studies"

--- Consciousness, Myth, and the Affecting Presence. Reader's report

--- "Contemporary African Literature in English"

--- The Dissertation and the Book:  A Publisher's View

------ Typescript, chapter one

--- "The Dissertation's Deadly Sins." Offprint

--- "The Establishment of a State of Affairs in Discourse"

--- Forms and Processes in African Sculpture.

------ Correspondence and table of contents
------ Memorandum of agreement

--- "First lecture" [on cultural affect?]

--- "Folklore, the Tradition, and Modern Literature"

---"From Communication to Discourse"

--- From Dissertation to Book

------ Correspondence
------ holograph manuscript
------ Typescript, first part
------ Typescript, first chapter
------ Typescript, chapters 5, 6, 12

Box 5

--- "Glossary"

--- "Interdisciplinarity"

--- "Knowledge Pollution"

--- "Language as Medium in the Study of Man"

--- Limericks

---- "The Mandala and Ishmael's Discovery"

--- "Metaphor as a Mode of Being"

--- "My Life in the Moving Picture Show."  holographic manuscript

--- [The Mythoform in Tragedy and Comedy]

--- "Notes [on various African countries, cities, universities, and presses] (for inclusion in "A Trip to Africa"?)

--- Poetry

--- "Publishing the Dissertation"

--- "The Qualities of a Book, the Wants of a Dissertation." In Scholarly Publishing 3:2 (January 1972)

--- "The Rise and Fall of Northwestern University Press: A Personal View by Its Former Director"

--- The Thesis and the Book . Memo

--- "Towards a Cross-Cultural Theory of Art"

--- "A Trip to Africa, October-December, 1963. Report of the African Subcommittee, International Cooperation Committee, Association of American University Presses." Includes Plant's manuscript notes as well as the printed report, published by the Association of American University Presses, Inc.

--- "The University Press in a Developing Country." Offprints

--- "The University Versus the University Press"

--- "What IS African Art?"

--- "What's Red, White, Blue, and Syndetic?"

--- "A Work of Art"