Students, colleagues remember Raymond Fogelson for his research and warmth

September 14, 2022 (last updated on July 13, 2023)

The professor emeritus passed away in January 2020, but will be remembered at a fall memorial at UChicago.

One of the foremost ethnohistorians of his time and a leading expert in Southeast ethnology, Raymond D. Fogelson is remembered for his thoughtful research, advocacy, and mentorship. He died January 20, 2020, at the age of 86, following a short illness.

Raymond Fogelson
Raymond Fogelson

Fogelson — a founding figure in the field of ethnohistory — had expertise that included the comparative studies of religion, psychological anthropology, museum anthropology, tourism, and hunting and gathering societies. He was colleagues with some of the other major influences in 1960s and 70s social theory, including Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, Marshall Sahlins, Vine Deloria, and Mel Spiro. He worked with several generations of graduate students, mentoring them through fieldwork, archival research, and theory.

“Ray was a true anthropologist, who believed in and was committed to the culture of a place, who understood the importance of intergenerational continuity and fostering institutions,” says Constantine V. Nakassis, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology. “For younger scholars like me, he was keen that I know the history of the place and understood how we kept our community together — which he demonstrated through his warm presence at department events. He passed on that spirit through a story over soup, by exchanging articles on kinship in his office, or over a beer at the local by his house. Ray fostered social relations, and showed that it is they that keep an institution like ours — the Department of Anthropology — going.”

Fogelson began college at Wesleyan University in pre-medicine before shifting to psychology and then anthropology. In graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania — where he received his PhD in 1962 — he took a particular interest in psychological anthropology. It was here he studied under Anthony F. C. Wallace and A. I. Hallowell. Both men were known for their empathetic approach to American Indian ethnohistory, along with their interest in psychological anthropology. Wallace originated the study of “re-vitalization movements,” a concept that was reflected in Fogelson’s own scholarship and teaching.

During his time at Penn, he also held a fellowship at the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute. After graduation, he worked at the University of Washington before moving to UChicago. He held visiting professorships at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California-Santa Cruz, the University of California-San Diego, and Princeton University.

Fogelson came to UChicago as a part of the 1965 hire of Melford Spiro, and he taught at the school from 1965 to 2011. During his time at UChicago, he became influenced by Sol Tax, who created the concept of action anthropology and contributed to the Statement of Indian Purpose. This document was composed by American Indian leaders and was an early advancement of the policy of tribal self-determination. Fogelson saw that committing to the anthropology of Native North America required principled engagement with the issues surrounding the self-determination of American Indians.

His fieldwork began with the Eastern Band of Cherokee under the guidance of John Gulick at the University of North Carolina. He would go on to conduct research with the Shushwap, the Western Cherokee, and the Muskogee — where he was an adopted member. According to many who knew him, his fieldwork was less about observation, but a matter of apprenticeship and of collaboration.

Fogelson’s books include The Cherokees: A Critical Bibliography, an edited collection Contributions to Anthropology: Selected Papers of A. Irving Hallowell and a co-edited collection with R.N. Adams titled The Anthropology of Power. He was the sole editor of the Smithsonian’s Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 14, Southeast. He also wrote numerous articles, including “On the Varieties of Indian History: Sequoyah and Traveller Bird,” published in The Journal of Ethnic Studies in 1974. It was a deconstruction of how ethnohistorical practice is oriented, along with a proposal for a new emphasis.

He was a longtime member of the American Society for Ethnohistory and served as its president in 1987-88. He also served as president of the Central States Anthropological Association in 1982-83. Fogelson often advocated for the communities he worked with. For example, he testified to Congress in favor of the federal recognition of Indian Tribes in 1988 and 1989, and to the Illinois House of Representatives regarding the Dixon Mound in 1991.

Among his students, Fogelson is remembered as a dedicated and joyful mentor.

“He was incredibly generous with his time, he lent us his books, and he always had plenty of time to spare to discuss with us our studies and research projects — as well as more personal issues,” says Sergei Kan, now a Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. “His home on the North Side was always open to his colleagues and students and I recall fondly many late-night parties.”

He credits the time Fogelson shared with his grad students to why many formed cohorts around not only common research interests — Native American ethnology, psychological anthropology, symbolic anthropology — but also a sense of camaraderie. Kan says his former professor also devoted ample time to helping his former students find jobs, obtain promotions, and get tenure.

Another former student, Michael Harkin, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Wyoming, recalls first meeting Fogelson in his office.

“You entered and immediately had to duck below the branches of his ficus plant,” Harkin says. “I was expecting a typical U of C professor: formidable and dour. Instead, he was like a jolly uncle. He was always handing me books from various stacks on his desk. Also in piles were student papers: class papers, theses, even dissertations.”

Harkins says he inherited his mentor’s “packrat and bibliophile traits,” which he found to be present in Fogelson’s Old Town apartment as well. “I would spend many a bleak Sunday afternoon, including many years after I graduated, watching NFL games and talking anthropology,” he says of Fogelson’s home.

After his retirement in 2011, the UChicago Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences created The Raymond D. Fogelson Prize in his honor, for the highest distinction in the field of ethnology or history. And although he was not of Native American descent, Fogelson was a member of an Oklahoma stomp ground, a group devoted to annual rites, and his stomp ground participation was a private religious practice that was separate from his anthropological study.

Fogelson is survived by his wife, Karen Luckritz. The two split their time between Chicago and Blairsville, Georgia.