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Helmut Wagner course notebooks, ca. 1940-1970

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SC-36

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised entirely of notebooks that Helmut Wagner created during his life. There are 272 notebooks in all, each measuring 7"x9". They seem to range from his time at the New School of Social Research to the end of his career. Most notebooks contain research on topics or people. Some include copies of texts and Wagner's criticism and thoughts on the piece. He also has notes and theories written down from courses, either taught or taken by him. There is very little personal information or writing, the majority of the material focusing on research or studies. There are also some essays written by his students from courses he taught either at Bucknell University or Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

The collection mainly focuses on topics related to religion, sociology, and economic social status. These are explored by specific examples and how they are established in society (such as social construction, Lutheranism, and North American Indians). This is accompanied by basic sociological elements, methods, and a few other less frequent topics (such as science, Greek philosophy, personality, and mass media). He also has notes on the studies and theories of individual sociologists.

There are a handful of notebooks on track and field, some that seem to relate to the Hobart College team. These are mixed in with the rest of the collection and were scattered throughout the boxes when they arrived. It is possible that Wagner served as a coach for the Hobart track and field team, or he was conducting a study involving track and field statistics.


  • ca. 1940-1970


Biographical Note

Helmunt R. Wagner was born in Dresden, Germany in 1904. He lived and obtained his education there with a four year technical college degree, possibly studying some social sciences. From 1925 to 1932 he was an adult teacher in Thuringia. In 1934 Wagner was declared an enemy of the state and lost his German citizenship due to his outspoken criticism of the Nazi state. He lived in Switzerland for some time after and emigrated to the United States in 1941. He worked as a tool maker and in 1951 began graduate work in sociology at the New School of Social Research. He received his M.A. in 1953 and his Ph. D. in 1955. After briefly teaching at his alma mater, Wagner taught at Bucknell University from 1956 to 1964, and then chaired the Anthropology and Sociology department at Hobart and William smith Colleges from 1964 to 1985, after which he retired. Wagner was a visiting professor at Boston University in 1986 and he served on the Editorial Board for the journal "Human Studies." In October 1988 he suffered a severe stroke from which he partially recovered, but the following March he suffered another which left him completely paralyzed. Wagner passed away the following month on April 22, 1989 in South Dennis, MA.

Wagner became interested in sociology from the work of Max Weber. He was greatly influenced by Weber's opinion that social action should be interpreted from a subjective standpoint. Wagner studied under Alfred Schutz and Carl Mayer at the New School of Social Research. He later agreed with Schutz's take on Weber's micro-sociology and aided Schutz's advocacy for sociology to gain a consistently subjective foundation. Towards the end of his life, Wagner was influenced by the teachings of Edmund Husserl. He advocated that he was not an expert in Husserl's phenomenological psychology approach, but that his own ideas fit into a part of Husserl's theories. He was known as a consummate researcher, meticulously careful writer and dedicated to scholarly life. This, his knowledge of phenomenology, and his German intellectual tradition made him into the keeper of Alfred Schutz's legacy, which he gladly pursued later in life. In doing this he hoped to further phenomenologically oriented sociology.

Wagner himself published around fifty articles in scholarly journals. He also co-wrote three pieces from 1983 to 1984 and edited two volumes on his mentor Schutz's writings in 1970 and 1982. Many of these works have been translated from English into German, Hungarian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. In 1983 he was in contact with the University of Chicago Press hoping to publish a massive thirty-eight chapter and 2,400 page manuscript biography on Alfred Schutz. In 1985 he was in contract with publishers to edit the fourth volume of papers by Schutz. At his death he left an unfinished work on philosophical anthropology on the Life World. In regarding this piece he was known to say "I have no idea how far I will be able to carry this project against the odds of the limitations of my intellectual capacities, and of time of which I know that it will eventually run out on me."

[Information taken from "In Memorium: Helmut R. Wagner (1904-1989)" in Human Studies 14: 225-227, 1991.]


36 Linear Feet ([36 boxes])

Language of Materials



The materials in this collection were removed from 272 small 7"x9" binders created by Helmut Wagner. The files in this collection are not arranged in any particular order, as the notebooks were unorganized when they were received and no clear organizational scheme could be determined. The files are named based on the label found on the binder. In some cases the label had faded and some words were unclear. These are noted by a (?) in the file name.


Boxes 1-18: Archives Storage, Range 22A, Section 5

Boxes 19-36: Archives Storage, Range 22B, Section 5


There are no records to indicate who donated this collection to the Archives, or when the donation may have occurred. Because this information is unknown we cannot assume that the notebooks were organized or selected by Wagner before being sent to the Colleges. This may be only a portion of Wagner's notebook collection, and the order in which they were received may not represent Wagner's own organizational scheme.

Helmut Wagner course notebooks, ca. 1940-1970: A Finding Aid
Courtney Holt WS '15 and Bryanne McArdle WS '16 with Katie Lamontagne, Archivist
November 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Archives and Special Collections Repository

Warren Hunting Smith Library
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva New York 14456 U.S.A. US (United States)