Paper Trails

My Letters, My Mother, My Anthropology


  • Ann Grodzins Gold Syracuse University



correspondence, emotion, ethnography, longitudinal, Rajasthan, relationships


During doctoral research in India, between June 1979 and March 1981, I wrote, often twice a week, to my mother, Ruth M. Grodzins, in Chicago. She saved these letters more or less in chronological order by attaching each one to a sheet of notebook paper in a bulging three-ring binder. Approximately forty years later I peruse them gingerly, with mixed feelings. Some of the letters’ content is nearly identical with the ethnographic writing that emerged from my first fieldwork and holds no surprises. Some of them recall fraught interpersonal hassles in all their immediate anguish. These later resolved themselves so thoroughly I totally forgot all about the incidents that, at the time, as evidenced in my letters and daily diary, had consumed me. However, to a retired anthropologist looking back on her first fieldwork, the best parts of these letters are their evocations of intensely experienced discoveries as well as of everyday pleasures, preoccupations and relationships.


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Author Biography

Ann Grodzins Gold, Syracuse University

Ann Grodzins Gold is emerita Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University. She has authored or co-authored five books all based on fieldwork in provincial Rajasthan, most recently Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017). During her career as an anthropologist of religion, Gold has held awards from the Fulbright Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Humanities Center,
among others.


Clark-Decès, Isabelle 2007 The Encounter Never Ends: A Return to the Field of Tamil Rituals. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Dwyer, Kevin 1982 Moroccan Dialogues: Anthropology in Question. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gold, Ann Grodzins 1988a Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims. Berkeley: University of California Press.

b Spirit Possession Perceived and Performed in Rural Rajasthan. Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.) 22(1): 35–63.

Waiting for Moonrise: Fasting, Storytelling and Marriage in Provincial Rajasthan. Oral Traditions 29(2): 203–224.

Portrait: Ann Grodzins Gold, At Home on the Margins. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 7: 1–16.

Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Gold, Ann Grodzins, and Bhoju Ram Gujar 2002 In the Time of Trees and Sorrows: Nature, Power, and Memory in Rajasthan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Singh, Bhrigupati 2015 Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tedlock, Dennis, and Bruce Mannheim (eds) 1995 The Dialogic Emergence of Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.



How to Cite

Grodzins Gold, A. (2020). Paper Trails: My Letters, My Mother, My Anthropology. Fieldwork in Religion, 15(1-2), 18–39.