Short Portrait: Erika Sulzmann

Erika Sulzmann
Erika Sulzmann

Erika Sulzmann was born in Mainz in 1911. There she spent her childhood and youth. After finishing school in 1930 she took up work as a technical assistant and eventually got employed at the Institute for Cultural Morphology (now: Frobenius-Institute) in Frankfurt/Main.

At the institute Sulzmann carried out many tasks, such as to archive and to document as well as graphic and photographic work. Moreover, she became responsible for establishing the institute´s now renowned library in 1934.

Due to her growing interest in Anthropology and especially in African Cultures, Sulzmann also began to visit lectures and seminars. In 1940 she took up her studies of Anthropology in Vienna, where Hermann Baumann was among her teachers. Sulzmann eventually became his assistant in 1944, after Annemarie Hefel was dismissed because of positions criticizing the Nazis; according to Linimayr (1994: 181) Sulzmann herself was "well adapted" to the political system. During World War II she began teaching and furthermore took care of many administration tasks at the institute.

After the end of World War II Sulzmann was discharged and returned to Mainz. She eventually returned to Vienna, where Wilhelm Koppers became her dissertation advisor. Sulzmann completed her Ph D thesis on the Mongo people in 1947.

In 1948 Sulzmann took up an assistant position at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz. Besides lecturing, she also established the institute´s library and again fulfilled a large part of administration work.

Between 1951 and 1954 Sulzmann conducted field work in Kongo, accompanied by Ernst Wilhelm Müller, who became head chairman of the institute in 1969. Moreover, Sulzmann did eight further field researches to Kongo between 1956 and 1980.

Throughout her field work she also purchased a number of ethnographic objects, which became the basis of the Ethnographic Collection of Mainz. In 1960 Sulzmann became head of the Collection and consistently tried to extend it. 
Erika Sulzmann died in Mainz in 1989.



Linimayr, Peter (1994) Wiener Völkerkunde im Nationalsozialismus. Ansätze zu einer NS-Wissenschaft. Wien (u.a.): Lang

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in June 2012, based on an article by Brandstetter, Anna-Maria, 2006; in: 60 Jahre Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien, Ein Geburtstagsbuch; Mainzer Beiträge zur Afrikaforschung, ed. 14, pp. 87 - 95; some remarks by Dieter Haller)

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