A scholar with a BA in literature (Bennington College, 1962) and a Ph.D. in Anthropology (Tulane University, 1973), Harriet Ottenheimer writes often on language and music in African and African American cultures. She is the author of The Anthropology of Language and The Anthropology of Language: Workbook/Reader (Fourth Edition - Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019; with Judith M.S. Pine), Cousin Joe: Blues from New Orleans (University of Chicago, 1987 and Pelican Press 2012), and The Quorum (Such-A-Much Productions & Doorknob Films, 2004). Working in close collaboration with Shinzwani speakers from the Comoro Islands, she developed and published the Comorian-English/English-Comorian (Shinzwani) Dictionary (Banawasi 2008; Ag Press 2011).
She is also co-author, with anthropologist husband Martin Ottenheimer, of The Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands (Scarecrow, 1992) and Music of the Comoro Islands: Domoni (Folkways/Smithsonian, 1972/1992) and numerous articles and encyclopedia articles on the Comoro Islands.
As both an Africanist and an African Americanist, Dr. Ottenheimer has published chapters and articles on language and music in Africa as well as in the African Diaspora. She writes about blues and blues history, about orthography and politics, and about language, ethnicity, and identity. Her article "Writing Cousin Joe: Choice and Control over Orthographic Representation in a Blues Singer's Autobiography" combines many of these themes and was published as a chapter in A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication (Leila Monaghan & Jane E. Goodman, eds., Blackwell 2007, 2011).
A Fulbright Scholar to the Czech Republic in 2001, Ottenheimer taught The Anthropology of Art, and Anthropology through Film in the Department of Ethnology at Charles University in Prague. She also lectured on blues, fieldwork, and culinary anthropology in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Ukraine in 2001 and again in 2004 and 2005. She has lectured and consulted on ethnic studies and curriculum design in eastern and central Europe, in Taiwan and in the United States.
Ottenheimer was the Founding Director of Kansas State University's American Ethnic Studies Department. She is the recipient of the KSU President's Award for Distinguished Service to Minority Education and of the Charles Irby Award for Distinguished Service to the National Association for Ethnic Studies. She has served as Secretary and President of the National Association for Ethnic Studies (NAES) and as Secretary/Treasurer of the Central States Anthropological Society (CSAS). Currently she is Treasurer of the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. She also sings Alto with the Master Chorale of South Florida. A US Sailing Certified National Judge, she judges sailing competitions nationally and internationally.
Ottenheimer taught Linguistic and Cultural Anthropology, Culinary Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, and Ethnic Studies at Kansas State University from 1969 to 2006. She is currently writing anthropologically themed mystery novels.