Oswald Werner

Obituary of Oswald Werner

Oswald Werner, who had a joint appointment in Anthropology and Linguistics at Northwestern University for 32 years, died at the age of 95 in Santa Fe NM on March 26, 2023. Known simply as “Ossy” to his family and friends, as well as to generations of colleagues and students, he was a linguistic anthropologist who specialized in Navajo semantics through an approach to the study of cultural knowledge which he called “ethnoscience.” His best-known work was the handbook of ethnographic methods titled Systematic Field Work (SAGE, 1987).

Ossy was born in what is now the republic of Slovakia and emigrated to the U.S. after WWII, settling in Syracuse, NY, where he opened a successful photography studio and met his wife, June Travers Werner. He later became a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois. There, he founded a summer field school based in New Mexico and Arizona. The Northwestern Ethnographic Field School operated from 1973 to 1994, placing students in Latino and indigenous communities throughout the region. In 1995, Ossy moved with June to Albuquerque New Mexico. After June’s death in 2015, Ossy moved to Santa Fe where he continued both his interest in the sciences, social and physical as well ashis passion for photography. Toward the end of his life, he also developed an aptitude for composing haiku.

Ossy had a profound influence on many people throughout his life. His most enduring legacy will be his family, friends, and the many graduate students for whom he served as a mentor, inspiration and friend. His love for the Navajo people (Diné) and Navajo culture is emblematic of the values of understanding and appreciation of others that he modeled throughout his life. Ossy was a inquisitive and upbeat soul who listened to others with genuine interest, thoughtfully

reflecting on a wide range of topics from culture to astrophysics. A lifelong lover of wordplay, Ossy was always ready with a groan-worthy pun.

Oswald Werner was preceded in death by his wife June Werner, sister Bella Werner Duffy, and brother Roland Werner. He is survived by his brother Bernard Werner, children Deborah Werner Flannery, Derek Werner, and Rickard Werner, along with three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

In lieu of flowers please send donations to

Navajo Ethno-Medical Encyclopedia Project

c/o Kayenta Research Associates, Inc.

P. O. Box 1597

Kayenta, AZ 86033

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