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University of Texas at Austin

O. K. (Oets Kolk) Bouwsma, 1898-1978:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Bouwsma, O. K. (Oets Kolk), 1898-1978
Title: O. K. Bouwsma Papers,
Dates: 1907-1988 (bulk 1925-1978)
Extent: 50 document boxes (21 linear feet)
Abstract: The O. K. Bouwsma Papers, 1907-1988 (bulk 1925-1978) consist of journals, notepads, correspondence, notes, lectures, essays, articles, clippings, drawings, invitations, receipts, and printed material related to the American philosopher O. K. Bouwsma.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-00473
Language: English
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Centers' Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. O. K. Bouwsma Papers (Manuscript Collection MS-00473).
Acquisition: Gift, 1978-2002 (G 4, G 302, G 972, G 1064, G 2020, G 8838, G 8867, G 9991, G 10507, G 10583, G 11455, G 12151, G 12123)
Processed by: Ronald E. Hustwit, Holly A. Hustwit, and Henry Moore, 1991; Ancelyn Krivak, 2018

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Oets Kolk (O. K.) Bouwsma, born in 1898 in Muskegon, Michigan, was an American philosopher, teacher, and writer. He studied English literature and philosophy, first at Calvin College and later at the University of Michigan (BA 1920, MA 1921, PhD 1928). Bouwsma taught philosophy at the University of Nebraska from 1928 to 1965 and at the University of Texas at Austin from 1965 until his death in 1978.
On leave from the University of Nebraska from 1949-1951, Bouwsma traveled to Cornell University, Smith College (where he held a one-semester teaching appointment), and the University of Oxford, meeting and talking in all three locations with the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Bouwsma took detailed notes recording his conversations with Wittgenstein, posthumously published as Wittgenstein: Conversations, 1949-1951 (1986). In 1950-1951, Bouwsma delivered the inaugural series of John Locke Lectures in Philosophy at the University of Oxford, after Wittgenstein declined to participate due to ill health.
Bouwsma served as President of the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association from 1957-1958. Some of his published articles were collected in the volumes Philosophical Essays (1965) and The Nature of Philosophical Inquiry (1970). Selections from Bouwsma’s unpublished papers and notes were published posthumously in Toward a New Sensibility (1982), Without Proof or Evidence (1984), Bouwsma’s Notes on Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, 1965-1975 (1986), and O. K. Bouwsma’s Commonplace Book: Remarks on Philosophy and Education (2001). Bouwsma taught many students who went on to become philosophers, including Norman Malcolm, Morris Lazerowitz, and Ronald E. Hustwit. After his death in Austin, Texas in 1978, Bouwsma was survived by his wife, Gretchen (later Gretchen Bouwsma Bos), and his three children, Charles E. Bouwsma, William J. Bouwsma, and Gretchen Bouwsma Emmons.


In addition to materials within the collection, the following sources were used:
"Bouwsma, Oets Kolk (1898-1978)." In The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers, edited by John R. Shook, v.1, 298. Bristol: Thoemmes, 2015.
Bouwsma, O. K. Wittgenstein: Conversations, 1949-1951. Edited by J. L. Craft and Ronald E. Hustwit. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1986.
Malcolm, Norman. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001.

Scope and Contents

The O. K. Bouwsma Papers, 1907-1988 (bulk 1925-1978) consist of journals, notepads, correspondence, notes, lectures, essays, articles, clippings, drawings, invitations, receipts, and printed material related to the American philosopher O. K. Bouwsma. The papers are organized into two series, I. Journals and Notepads, 1925-1978 and II. Seminar Notes, Correspondence, and Other Works, 1907-1988.
Series I. contains Bouwsma’s handwritten journals and notepads, arranged mainly in chronological order. The journals are mostly dated and run from 1925 through 1957, with some gaps in years, notably between 1925 and 1932. Entries in the journals run consecutively and are chiefly personal in nature, recording Bouwsma’s responses to books he reads and sermons he hears, discussions with colleagues, thoughts on government and education, and reflections about himself, family, and friends. Ronald E. Hustwit created the descriptions of the journals’ contents transcribed in the container list while reviewing microfilmed copies of the originals; these descriptions are not intended as a comprehensive list of topics contained in the journals.
Bouwsma’s notepads are arranged mainly in chronological order, spanning the years 1955 through 1978. Some notepads overlap in date, as Bouswma took notes on various topics during the same period, while others continue Bouswma’s notes on a particular topic from the previous pad. Philosophy professor John P. Murphy abstracted the contents of the notepads and assigned numbers to the pads. These pad numbers and descriptions are transcribed in the container list. The notepads generally record Bouwsma’s thoughts on topics in philosophy, specific philosophers, and works of philosophical thought and may include preliminary notes for essays and articles that later were published. A few folders contain newspaper clippings on general topics (apparently unrelated to the contents of the accompanying notepad) and correspondence. Correspondence in this series is indexed at the end of this finding aid.
Series II. Seminar Notes, Correspondence, and Other Works, 1907-1988 predominantly consists of Bouwsma’s handwritten and typewritten notes for seminars and lectures, with a small amount of other materials. The first five boxes in this series were described and numbered by John P. Murphy; his cataloging numbers are reproduced in each folder’s description in the container list, but do not correspond to the current box and folder numbers. Besides class notes, lecture notes, and class handouts, the series contains correspondence, works by other authors, offprints of articles by Bouwsma, clippings, drawings, invitations, receipts, and printed material. Correspondence is indexed at the end of this finding aid and includes letters from such notable correspondents as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Yorick Smythies. Of particular interest in Series II are Bouwsma’s annotated copies of Wittgenstein’s "Blue Book" and "Brown Book." These are bound typescripts of Wittgenstein’s lecture notes prepared by his assistants at the University of Cambridge that were distributed to Wittgenstein’s students and colleagues during his lifetime and published posthumously as a single volume. Many of Bouwsma’s entries in the handwritten notepads filed in Series I refer to the "Blue Book," and to a lesser extent, the "Brown Book."

Separated Material

93 books from the personal library of O. K. Bouwsma were transferred to the Ransom Center Library. These books are cataloged online in The University of Texas Library Catalog.
An audiocassette of O. K. Bouwsma reading from his notebooks on his conversations with Ludwig Wittgenstein was transferred to the Center's Sound Recordings Collection and is described separately in the Center’s Sound Recordings Database, available in the Center’s Reading and Viewing Room.
VHS and DVD recordings of Remembering O. K. Bouwsma: an interview with Chuck Bouwsma and Gretchen Bouwsma Emmons were transferred to the Center's Moving Image Collection and are described separately in the Center’s Moving Image Database, available in the Center’s Reading and Viewing Room.

Index Terms


Bouwsma, O.K.


Philosophers--United States.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1889-1951.

Document Types


Container List