Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

MS 2004-07 David Efron Gesture Research

Online Media

Catalog Data

Efron, David, 1904-  Search this
Van Veen, Stuyvesant  Search this
5 Inches
Italians -- United States  Search this
Jews, Lithuanian  Search this
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
New York (N.Y.)
bulk circa 1930-1940
Scope and Contents:
This collection contains fieldnotes, drawings and illustrations from Efron's research on gesture language among Sicilian and Lithuanian Jewish immigrants on the lower east side of New York City. The several hundred original captioned illustrations in the collection were created by Stuyvesant Van Veen. The collection also includes a 115-page Bibliography of Gesture and Posture, which Efron apparently never published, and one item on Native American gesture language from 1890.
Biographical / Historical:
A student of Franz Boas, David Efron conducted his gesture study to examine differences in the gestural repertoire of different neighboring immigrant communities, as well as the effect of assimilation on the range of gestures used by their first generation descendants. Efron's demonstration of the cultural basis of gestural style challenged Nazi "scientific" claims that gestural style was racially inherited. The results of his research were published as Gesture and Environment (King's Crown Press, 1941), republished as Gesture, Race and Culture (Mouton, 1972).
Efron collaborated on his gesture research with Stuyvesant Van Veen (1910-1988), a New York City artist who studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students league and worked with the muralist Thomas Hart Benton. Van Veen is also known in anthropological circles for the illustrations he produced for Franz Boas' research on Kwakiutl dances.
Efron's was perhaps the first ethnographic research to combine meticulous participant observation and artistic collaboration with the analysis of everyday social behavior recorded on motion picture film.
Local Numbers:
NAA MS 2004-07
Other Archival Materials:
Stuyvesant Van Veen's papers are maintained by the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art, which also has a 1981 interview with Van Veen in which the artist discusses his work with Boas.
Gesture  Search this
Anthropological linguistics  Search this
Immigrants  Search this
Language and languages -- Documentation  Search this
Manuscript 2004-07 David Efron Gesture Research, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Archival Repository:
National Anthropological Archives