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Anthropology Emeritus Lecture Series at U.C. Berkeley

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Introductory Remarks by John Ogbu

Formative Years
First Anthropology Job
Work at Rhodes-Livingstone Institute
Social Consequences of Forced Relocation: The Gwembe Tonga Research
Years at Berkeley
Scope of Work: U. S., Africa, Australia
Professional Recognition and Honors

Introduction: I am very delighted for the privilege of making a few remarks about Professor Elizabeth Colson on the occasion of honoring her with our 7th emeriti lecture.

Formative Years:

Elizabeth Colson was born in Hewitt, Minnesota. She studied anthropology at the University of Minnesota where she graduated (Summa Cum Laude) in 1938. Even before college, Elizabeth was already showing signs of a future anthropologist. For example, it is reported that during family summer picnics she would wonder off to poke about the ruins of an old nearby fort nearby. She went on to Radcliffe College where she earned her doctoral degree in anthropology in 1945. Her dissertation, The Makah: A Study in Assimilation, was supervised by Professor Clyde Kluckhohn at Harvard.

First Anthropology Job:

At the time Elizabeth began to study anthropology formally the field did not particularly welcome women as students or professionals. Thus, in some anthropology courses women enrolled at Radcliffe were required to sit in the corridor with the door open, while male students sat in the lecture hall; furthermore, female students were not allowed to ask questions. The widespread notion then was that women did not possess the same intellectual capacities as men.

Employment opportunities were limited for anthropologists in general, and for women in particular. Thus, when Elizabeth completed her doctoral degree in 1945, she was told that there were no jobs in her field. Fortunately, however, before the year ended Elizabeth obtained a position at the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in Central Africa. We are told by an eye witness that her success in getting this appointment in a major research institute was celebrated by the anthropologists at Harvard; they held an evening party that went on for many hours, featuring "much hard alcohol, assorted finger foods, and good conversation."

Work At Rhodes-Livingstone Institute:

The Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (now a part of the University of Zambia) was founded in 1937 to investigate the social systems and changing social conditions of the ethnic groups in Central Africa. Elizabeth was one of the three anthropologists joining after WW 11 to study The Plateau Tonga, Ngoni and Yao. Elizabeth assignment was to study the Tonga, Barnes the Ngoni and J. Clyde Mitchell the Yao.In 1949 Colson and Max Gluckman, the former director of the Institute, edited Seven Tribes of Central Africa, with chapters by Colson, Barnes and Mitchell as well as chapters on the Lozi by Gluckman, Bemba by Audrey Richards, Nyakusa by Godfrey Wilson and Shona Holleman. Elizabeth had already succeeded Gluckman as the director of the Institute when the latter left to become a lecturer at Oxford University in 1947. Elizabeth held the position until 1951.

Social Consequences of Forced Relocation: The Gwembe Tonga Research.

One of the many important contributions that Elizabeth made to the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and to African Anthropology is her study of the social consequences of the forced relocation of the Gwembe Tonga. This study was undertaken after the government decided to build a dam across the Zambezi River at Kariba Gorge. But before the dam could be built, the Gwembe Tonga who lived in the area had to be re-settled somewhere. The Rhodes-Livingstone Institute decided to study the Gwembe Tonga unique way of life before the relocation as well as study them again five years after the resettlement. Elizabeth and Thayer Scudder conducted both the pre-location study in 1956-57 and post resettlement study in 1962-63. In 1971 Elizabeth published her restudy, The Social Consequences of Resettlement. In the book she describes several unanticipated national and international events that had affected the adjustment and adaptation of the Gwembe in their relocation. Furthermore, the study provided a clear confirmation of what she called "an old anthropological message", namely, "that it is folly to allow technology to determine policy."

The Gwembe Tonga study has had an enormous impact on scholars and policy-makers in the fields of development, forced migration, refugees and other displaced populations.

It is not surprising that Elizabeth was later invited to Oxford University where she spent the entire year of 1988-89 as a volunteer at the Refugee Studies Program. Elizabeth now serves on the editorial board of the program. The Program has honored Elizabeth in two ways in recognition of her contributions: first, it sponsors an annual Colson lecture on forced migration; and it has established Elizabeth Colson Lectureship in Forced Migration. I was informed this morning that the first occupant of this position is just about 2 weeks on the job.

Years At Berkeley:

After leaving Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, Elizabeth went to Manchester University as a Simon Frazer Fellow and then a senior lecturer. When she returned to the United States she taught at Goucher College, Boston, Brandeis, Harvard and Northwestern Universities before coming to Berkeley in 1964, during the heyday of our department. I would concur with my esteemed colleague, Dr. Nader, that it was an intellectually sociable period in our department and it was reflected at the parties which always mixed social, cultural and archaeology. I experienced some of this when I joined the faculty in the early 1970s.

Even before then, I benefited from her intellectual and social hospitality as one of her graduate students. We went to her home for intellectual discussions and mock orals as well as for wine and cheese with many of her anthropology guests from all over the world. I can truly say that all of us appreciated and still appreciate the way Elizabeth encouraged everyone of us to develop in his or her own way and yet provided us with the intellectual support to make that development possible and meaningful. It was out of gratitude and in recognition of her important contributions to anthropology that her former students honored her with a festschrift in 1984, Opportunity, Constraint, and Change: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth Colson.

Scope of Work: U. S., Africa, Australia:

Elizabeth's work is not limited to Central Africa. In fact, it covers three continents: the U. S. where she conducted fieldwork among some Native Americans. One of these was her dissertation study mentioned earlier. She has done fieldwork in Australia. But most of her research was in Central Africa. It is estimated that between 1946 and 1978 she spent about 42 months doing research among the Plateau Tonga and that between 1949 and 1996 she spent over 60 months studying the Gwembe Tonga before and after resettlement. Colson is regarded by many as the best Africanist in the U. S. And a colleague has characterized her theoretical contributions to African anthropology as solid, deep and relevant and that she keeps up with current problems without being faddish.


Whenever I receive a reprint from Elizabeth it reminds me of a favorite book title, No Quitting Sense. At the time of her "retirement" in 1984 (and I put retirement in parenthesis) Elizabeth had published 11 books and over 80 articles. In my recent count she had added 4 more books and 34 articles, making a total of 15 books and 114 articles in law, politics, religion, development and theory.


Elizabeth has served the Department, the University, the profession as well as many public and private institutions in many capacities. For example, she was the vice-chair for undergraduate affairs in anthropology and chair of the university budget committee. One other service deserves to be mentioned: Elizabeth's effort to increase women's opportunity in academia. Remember that when Elizabeth went into anthropology at Harvard, women could only sit in the corridor of the lecture hall and there were almost no jobs for female graduates. When Elizabeth arrived at Berkeley women were highly under-represented at all ranks of the faculty. For example, in 1970 only 2% of the full professors, 5.3% of the associate professors, and 5% of the assistant professors were women. The report of the Senate Subcommittee on the status of academic women at Berkeley which was co-chaired by Elizabeth has resulted in a significant change in the situation.

Professional Recognition and Honors:

Elizabeth has won numerous honors, testifying to her professional recognition. These include Fellowships from Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford and the Fairchild Fellowship from the California Institute of Technology; Distinguished Lectureships: include the Society for Applied Anthropology's Malinowski Lecture (1985), The Lewis Henry Morgan lecture at the University of Rochester, The American anthropological association's Distinguished Lecture (1975), The Southwest Anthropological society's Distinguished Lecture (1977), Bernard Moses Lecture in the social sciences, U. C. Berkeley and U.C. Berkeley Faculty Research Lecture (1983); Elections, Awards, Citations: include The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The National Academy of Arts and Sciences, Honorary Foreign Fellow of Royal Anthropological Institute; Outstanding Achievement Award from Society of Women Geographers, Rivers Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and The Berkeley Citation. She has been awarded Honorary Doctoral Degrees from: The University of Rochester, Brown University, and The University of Zambia.


My colleagues and I, and indeed, the entire Department of Anthropology at Berkeley, are very pleased to honor you today with our 7th Emeriti Lecture. Congratulations.



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