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John Zerzan papers

Identifier: Coll 273

Scope and Contents

The John Zerzan papers contain correspondence and letters, essay and book manuscript drafts, audiovisual and digital recordings, and anarchist zines and periodicals. These both document Zerzan's own activites as well as reflect his collecting interests. Also included are personal papers and memorabilia, such as annotated calendars, photograph albums, and flyers and documents related to his travels and speaking tours.

Correspondence includes letters both personal and professional in nature. Some noteworthy correspondants include Theodore (Ted) Kacynzski, convicted for the "Unabomber" killings; anarchist primitivist thinkers, John Moore, Freddy Perlman, and John Filiss; and individuals imprisoned for anarchist and environmental activist activities, including Robert Thaxton, Jeffrey Luers, and Jim Magnuson.


  • 1917-2022


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time. Collection includes sound recordings, moving images, and digital files to which access is restricted. Access to these materials is governed by repository policy and may require the production of listening or viewing copies. Researchers requiring access must notify Special Collections and University Archives in advance and pay fees for reproduction services as necessary.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical Note

John Zerzan was born in 1943 in Salem, Oregon. In 1962, Zerzan attended Stanford University, graduating with a degree in political science in 1966. After college, Zerzan worked for the Social Service Employee's Union in San Francisco as a union organizer and officer from 1967-1970. During his work as a labor activist, Zerzan became frustrated by the hierarchical and rigid structure of both traditional labor unions and Marxist organizations. Breaking from mainstream leftist activism in 1970, Zerzan worked with several anarchist collectives--including Upshot, and Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous--propagandizing and organizing against domesticated life, social control, technology, and industrialization. The last of these elements, Zerzan's critique of industrialization, would become the central focus of his future work. In 1970, he returned to school, receiving his Master's Degree in history from San Francisco State in 1972, and was a daoctoral student at the University of Southern California until 1975. Zerzan remained in California for several years, working odd jobs and continuing his activities in the radical community.

In 1981, Zerzan returned to Oregon, settling in Eugene, where he began to devote more time to his writing and activism in the anarchist community. Influenced, in part, by a growing movement of radical environmentalists in Eugene and a number of anarchists worldwide writing on similar issues, he continued to develop his critique of civilization.

Through his numerous written works, John Zerzan has made a significant contribution to anarchist discourse. Beginning in the late 1970s, John Zerzan wrote many articles for prominent academic journals and anarchist magazines. In these early pieces, such as "Taylorism and Unionism" or "Origins and Meaning of World War I," Zerzan's training as a historian is evident. He made early contributions to academic journals, such as The Journal of Social History and TELOS. In the early 1980s, Zerzan wrote a significant amount of material for the young and emerging journal Fifth Estate. Zerzan wrote his first book in 1988, Elements of Refusal. Zerzan's work began to promote the concept of "primitivism" within the anarchist community, which fuses the anarchist critique of capitalism and authority, with a rejection of technology and civilization. In the late 1980s, Zerzan began writing for Anarchy: the Journal of Desire Armed, writing articles, editorials, and book reviews. Eventually, Zerzan assumed a position as contributing editor for the journal and continued to work in this capacity through 2002. Working more locally with the vibrant anarchist community in Eugene, Zerzan began to contribute to the production of the journal Green Anarchy, appeared on the weekly cable access programs "Cascadia Alive" and "Anarchy Forum," and hosted his own radio show, "Anarchy Radio," on the campus radio station at the University of Oregon.

Despite his numerous publications and presence in the anarchist community, Zerzan's ideas about anarchism-primitivism did not reach the mainstream until his very public role in the case of the Unabomber. John Zerzan's incendiary rhetoric and radical environmentalism attracted the attention of the FBI in 1994 and he became a central suspect in a series of mail package bombings, labeled the Unabomber attacks, which targeted scientists and businessmen. After the publication of the Unabomber manifesto, Zerzan gave interviews and lectures in defense of the Unabomber's ideas and philosophies. Coverage of Zerzan's opinions appeared in both national and international papers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. After the arrest of Theodore Kaczynski in 1996 for the bombings, Zerzan wrote him and finally visited him in 1997. The two corresponded regularly by letter for several years, although they eventually had a falling out over ideological differences.

After the Unabomber case, Zerzan's ideas gained more attention. He published several large articles, re-printed his first book, Elements of Refusal, co-edited a collection of essays entitled Against Civilization, and published a new book, Running on Emptiness. Primitivism also found new allies in radical environmental circles, such as Earth First! and the movement against neoliberalism. The protests at the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), located in Seattle in December of 1999, thrust Zerzan back into the media limelight. Anarchist groups from Eugene, such as the Black Bloc, gained a great deal of media attention for their activities in Seattle. As a very public figure and quasi-spokesman for Eugene anarchists, newspapers and magazines referred to Zerzan as a "leader" or "guru."


43.5 linear feet (45 containers) : 2022 processing added: 11 record storage boxes, 3 manuscript boxes, 7 flat storage boxes, 2 tubes

Language of Materials










Spanish; Castilian



John Zerzan (1943- ) is a writer and anarchist activist in Oregon. The collection includes letters, essay and book drafts, and anarchist ephemera and publications that reflect his activities.


This collection is arranged in eleven series:
Series 1. Correspondence, 1961-2022
Series 2. Manuscripts, 1994-2022, undated
Series 3. Unpublished articles, undated
Series 4. Large circulation radical publications, 1974-2021
Series 5. Short print publications and zines, 1975-2022, undated
Series 6. Topic files, 1991-2002, undated
Series 7. Ephemera, 1994-2019, undated
Series 8. Oversize, 1979-1996, undated
Series 9. Miscellaneous personal papers and memorabilia, 1917, 1957-2021
Series 10. Periodicals, 1985-2022
Series 11. Audiovisual and digital materials, 1990-2012, undated

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of John Zerzan in 2002-2016. Purchased from John Zerzan 2019-2022.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Alexander Morrow, Manuscripts Processor, June 2002. Revised by Patrick McCall, 2022.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Processing Information

This collection contains unprocessed digital material. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives for more information.

Guide to the John Zerzan papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Alexander Morrow; updated and edited by Patrick McCall (2022).
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA