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Elwin H. Powell papers

 Collection — Box: 1-95
Identifier: 22-3F-1088

Scope and Contents

In 1996, Powell deliberately organized one box of his own materials to be donated to the University Archives. He included class hand-outs and copies of an autobiographical work in progress. He also included a table of contents and a cover letter to explain the documents (the original letter and table of contents sent to the University Archivist is located in the accession folder). The folders from Powell's original donation were incorporated into the larger collection; however they are differentiated by an asterisk (*) in the finding aid. He arranged them into five parts and describes them in his cover letter as follows:

Part I. Choosing Peace/Making Trouble: A Project in Participatory Sociology, 1960-1990 is a still uncompleted manuscript (about 200 pages) dealing mainly with my antiwar activity on this campus. Most of this material was previously printed in the Buffalo Alternative Press and in Catalyst.

Part II. Catalyst, 1985, an issue mainly of the autobiographical writings of UB students in a Soc. 101 class. 211 pages.

Part III. Lecturing by Letter: Teaching 410 people to write a book and alter their consciousness, with a 30 page correspondence with a suicide attempter. 200 pages.

Part IV. Self as Project: On Choice, Consciousness and Conduct... Class Handouts, 1987-1996... approximately 1000 to 2000 pages. Includes here is a table of contents, circa 40 pages. This collection I am now rewriting as a book. I think the handouts give a glimpse of UB life over the past decade.

Part V. Proactive Evolution... toward a Paleosociology includes published papers, handouts, and notes on the role of consciousness in human evolution.

After his death in 2001, an additional 62 boxes of materials were donated to the University Archives. Organization of this post-humus installment of papers was significantly less deliberate. Files were generally grouped as activism, research, coursework and correspondence.

Because Powell was an avid photocopier and owner of a photocopy machine, there were many duplicate copies of class handouts, letters, flyers, and leaflets. Most duplicates were discarded. A selection of the discarded documents was used in an exhibit/installation, Epicircle: The Ed Powell Project. Reviews and an announcement of the event are available in the accession folder.


  • 1960-2001


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Terms of Access

The bulk of the Elwin H. Powell papers, 1960-2001, is open for research.


Student work is restricted. Please see the Archivist for details.


Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Biographical Note

Elwin (Ed) H. Powell (1925-2001), was a professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo from 1958-2001. As a political activist and radical, his presence was influential on a local and national level.

Education and Teaching

Powell was born in Los Angeles, California, but soon after moved to Plainview, Texas where he spent his formative years. After graduating high school, he served in the United States Navy during World War II. At the conclusion of the war, he returned home to earn a bachelor's degree in science from the University of Texas. He spent two years teaching high school biology in Houston before he decided to return to school and pursue a doctorate in sociology. In 1956, he earned his Ph.D. from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana and then went on to complete two years of post-doctoral work at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was hired by the University at Buffalo in 1958.

While at UB, Powell taught undergraduate and graduate level sociology courses concerned with communication, religion, violence, city living, and politics. He made himself accessible to students, always available for discussions outside of class. Although officially retired in 1996, he continued to teach part-time until his death in 2001.


Powell participated in and founded a number of activist organizations that promoted peace and civil rights. From 1960-1961, he was head of SANE (The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy). Later, he co-founded Research for Justice, a non-profit organization that advocated for victims of police and government injustice. Throughout his career, Powell was very involved with local and national politics, attending protest rallies or marches: demonstrating for nuclear disarmament, free speech and access to information.

Powell made headlines in the early 1980's when he initiated a fervent campaign protesting the University at Buffalo's administration's decision to convert the Squire Hall student union (formerly known as the Norton Union), into a dental clinic. In February of 1982, he was arrested by Buffalo police during a peaceful sit-in, found guilty of third-degree trespass and served a 12 day sentence in the Wende Correctional Facility.

Research and Study

Powell's dissertation research on suicide and anomie was developed into a book, entitled Design of Discord: Studies of Anomie (1970, 1988). He served as editor of Catalyst: Journal for Participatory Sociology for a number of years, in addition to widely publishing many articles, essays and open letters which reflected his research interests and political conscience.

The forty-three years that Dr. Powell spent teaching at UB had a great impact on the university community and the Buffalo community at large. In his book, Design of Discord, he asserts correctly: "I am a part of all those who have touched my life."


40 Linear Feet (95 manuscript boxes)


The papers of Elwin H. Powell (1925-2001), activist and sociology professor at the University at Buffalo. Collection includes extensive research and writings concerning political events in the UB and Buffalo communities.


The collection is divided into four series: I. Activism, II. Research and writings, III. Teaching, and IV. Correspondence. Series contents are interrelated and there is much cross-over between subjects. Original order and folder titles were maintained as much as possible.

Acquisition Information

Dr. Powell donated one box of selected material to the University Archives in 1996. After his death in 2001, additional materials were donated by Karen Williams Powell.

Barbara Hoekje donated a copy of "Interplay: In Search of Narrative Sociology" to the University Archives in May of 2022 as accession #2022-032. This copy originally belonged to her mother, Marjory Nelson, a friend of Elwin Powell. The manuscript was received by the University Archives, along with a black-and-white photograph of Elwin Powell, June 2, 2022.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Erin Verhoef, 2006-2007.
Finding aid encoded by Danielle White, December 2014.


Finding Aid for the Elwin H. Powell papers
Finding aid prepared by Yoko Inagi.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)