Sven Liljeblad Papers

Identifier: 86-14

Scope and Contents

Research files, notes, and ethnographic records created by Liljeblad.


  • 1908-1994


Conditions Governing Access

The archives staff identified this material as being potentially culturally sensitive and/or subject to cultural privacy concerns. In alignment with the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials access to parts of this collection are restricted pending cultural review. Researchers must obtain permission from the appropriate cultural authority.

More specifically, it has been determined that Book 1 of the notebooks contains sensitive information relating to sweat lodges. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives for more information.

Biographical Note

Sven Liljeblad was born in Jonkoping, Sweden, May 30, 1899. He studied at Lund University from 1921 to 1929, taking his Filosofie kandidat degree in 1922, his Filosofie licentiat in 1927, and his Ph.D. in 1927. In different periods of time from 1925 and 1926 he studied in Demark, in Norway in 1926, in Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1927, and in Ireland in 1929. Liljeblad conducted ethnographic and folklorist field research in Sweden during 1922 to 1936.

During his time as a student at Lund University, Liljeblad, a student of Positivism based on the scientific method, studied under Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, a traditional folklorist anchored in nineteenth-century Romanticism. Liljeblad looked to Franz Boas, a German and fellow Positivist, who was engaged in gathering the traditions and material culture of Native Americans to describe geographic patterns. With this example, von Sydow and Liljeblad abandoned intuitive-based Romanticism, developing the Oicotype method to understand how environment and culture affect diffusing traditions.

From 1929 to 1936, Liljeblad taught as a docent in Ethnology and Folklore at Lund University, and as a formal member of their teaching staff until 1946. He lectured in the same areas from 1933 to 1939 at Uppsala University and while there during 1938 and 1939, was a member of the staff of the Dialect and Folklore Archives, during which time he planned and organized their system of index catalogs and questionnaires.

In 1939 he was awarded the Anders Zorn Fellowship of the Sweden-American Foundation for anthropological studies in the United States, arriving in Oct. 1939. From November 1939 to September 1940, he studied North American Indian folklore and ethnology at Indiana University and the University of California, Berkeley. He wanted to trace the Uto-Aztecan group known as the Shoshonean, which includes the Utes, Paiutes, Shoshones, Bannocks, Commanches, Panamints, and the virtually extinct tribe called the Kauaiisu in east-central California. He worked with the Numic language group, the northern division of the Uto-Aztecan language family. In the winter of 1940-1941, he studied the traditions of the Shoshone and Bannock Indians at Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho, then lectured that year at several American universities on Scandinavian ethnology. He continued his field studies in Bannock and Shoshoni later that year at the Fort Hall reservation until 1943.

Liljeblad left Idaho in 1943 and was a professor at Indiana University, teaching until 1944 in the Army Area and Language Program. Beginning in November 1944 to February 1958, he taught Scandinavian languages and literature at Harvard University as a Research Fellow in the Germanic Languages and Literatures program. He kept his connection with Indiana University by lecturing in their summer institute of folklore in both 1942 and 1946, and taught Scandinavian languages and literature during the summer of 1947 at the University of Chicago.

With the support of The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc. from 1948 to 1952, Liljeblad continued his linguistic studies of the Shoshonean languages, partly at Harvard and Indiana Universities, partly in the field, teaching in the summer of 1950 at Indiana University. In 1953 and for the next four years, he was at the Idaho State College where he organized their Museum and taught anthropology. He came to the University of Nevada, Reno in 1965 as the Hilliard Distinguished Professor of Humanities, a position he held until 1983. He continued his work with the members of Fort Hall, but also interviewed others in the northern Nevada area while continuing to teach folklore and linguistics in the Anthropology Department.

Trained as a European folklorist, his first interest was in traditional folktales, many of which are found in variations in many areas of North America and throughout the world. However, he was also a linguist, interested in the Native languages of the region. Liljeblad published extensively on both Swedish folklore while in Europe, and also on Native American folklore and languages, especially about his work in the United States with Bannock, Shoshoni, and Paiute speakers. He worked extensively with many Shoshoni and Northern Paiute people in Idaho and Nevada. He spoke both languages, and was affectionately known in Paiute as “fishbone” for his slender stature.

For his work, he recorded tales and language uses by those he interviewed, keeping written notes in his Field Notebooks and also recording some of the tales, songs, and pronunciations of words for his linguistic work. Early recordings were done on phonograph records, later transferred to reel-to-reel tapes, and continuing with the latter format as its acceptance as a new recording standard grew. His recordings number in the hundreds.

Upon his retirement from the University of Nevada, Reno, he received an honorary doctorate. He left his vast archive of linguistic, folklore and ethnographic materials to the Special Collections Department. Sven Liljeblad was married to Astrid von Heijne whom he met while at Harvard University. The couple returned to their native Sweden in 1992. Before they left, they established the Sven and Astrid Liljeblad Endowment at the University of Nevada, Reno, to support research on Great Basin Native American languages and traditional cultures. Sven Liljeblad lived to be 100-years-old, dying in Stockholm, Sweden on March 15, 2000.


56 Cubic Feet (118 boxes)

Language of Materials



The preliminary inventory of the collection divides the papers into four series:

Series 1: Field Note Books, Recordings, and Genealogical Materials

Series 2: Transcriptions

Series 3: Correspondence, Research Materials, and Notes

Series 4: Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Sven Liljeblad between 1986-1992.

Separated Materials

Photographs have been transferred to the Special Collections Department photo archive as collection number UNRS-P1997-50.

Processing Information

Preliminary Inventory done by Jacquelyn Sundstrand and Ian McGlory.

Guide to the Sven Liljeblad Papers
In Progress
Preliminary Inventory Created by Ian McGlory
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)