Elizabeth M. Brumfiel
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of our friend and colleague, Elizabeth Brumfiel, who died on Sunday, January 1st at the age of 66. Liz was one of the world’s leading scholars of Aztec archaeology, whose work explored the dynamics of social and economic inequality in human societies. She was a pioneer in feminist anthropology, exploring issues of gender and class in the archaeological record.
For over 30 years, Liz and her students carried out archaeological research in Xaltocan, Mexico, exploring the economic and political consequences of Aztec rule. In 2007, the town presented her with the Eagle Warrior Prize (the highest warrior class in Aztec society) for her dedication to community issues in archaeology. Liz promoted an inclusive and inspiring research ethic for her students and colleagues through personal example and feminist-inspired research and teaching. Over the span of her career, she authored six books and edited volumes and more than 60 scholarly articles.
In addition to her teaching and research, Liz held prominent leadership positions in anthropology and archaeology. From 2003 to 2005, she served as the President of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). During her presidency, Brumfiel was instrumental in establishing the World Council of Anthropological Associations, obtaining funding for the AAA's RACE Project and furthering the Association's support of social justice and human rights initiatives. Her strong voice on social justice and human rights as AAA President led conservative author David Horowitz to list Brumfiel as one of the “101 Most Dangerous Professors in America” in 2006.
From October of 2008 through April of 2009, Brumfiel was the lead curator of “The Aztec World,” a large and popular exhibit at the Field Museum that traced the rise and fall of Aztec culture through nearly 300 artifacts. Of particular interest to her was the information that many of those objects shed on the lives of women under Aztec rule.
Liz earned her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan, and her master’s degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. She taught at Albion College in Michigan from 1977 to 2003. Since joining the Northwestern faculty in 2003, Liz has been a respected and beloved teacher and colleague. To honor her memory, the Department of Anthropology is establishing the Elizabeth Brumfiel Award for Best Senior Thesis in Anthropological Archaeology.
Brumfiel is survived by her husband, Vincent; her son Geoffrey and his fiancée Natasha Gilbert; her sister Fran and brother-in-law Gerald Johnson; and her dearest friend Cynthia Robin. Donations in her name can be made to The Archaeological Conservancy, 505-266-2540 orhttp://www.americanarchaeology.com/
A memorial service at Northwestern is planned for the spring.
Professor (Ph.D. Michigan 1976)
TEACHING AND RESEARCH INTERESTS : Mesoamerican archaeology and ethnohistory, gender archaeology, class and factional dynamics in prehistoric societies, Aztec religion.
Elizabeth M. Brumfiel is an archaeologist with broad interests in social and economic inequality, whether by class, race, gender or sexuality. Her primary focus is Aztec culture. For the past two decades she and her students have conducted archaeological excavations at Xaltocan Mexico, about twenty miles north of Mexico City. This site was the capital of a small autonomous kingdom from 900-1430 AD. It then was incorporated into the Aztec Empire, and then into the Spanish colonial empire. Brumfiel has studied how imperial domination affected local production, regional exchange, women’s roles, and religious thought at Xaltocan. The first five years of this research is summarized in Production and Power at Postclassic Xaltocan (2005). Her concern with women’s production at Xaltocan has led to broader questions about the organization of social inequality and feminist and gendered archaeology.
A Northwestern University class in engendered archaeology, co-taught with Cynthia Robin, produced Gender, Households, and Society, (2008), co-edited with Cynthia Robin and featuring papers by students in the class. Her other books include Specialization, Exchange, and Complex Societies (co-edited with T.K. Earle), Factional Competition and Political Development in the New World (co-edited with J.W. Fox), Economic Anthropology of the State. Liz has served as President of the American Anthropological Association (2003-2005) and a Distinguished Lecturer for the scientific society Sigma Xi. She was a Course Designer of the Society of American Archaeology Task Force on the Curriculum. She was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. She is the recipient of grants/fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Heinz Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has been an invited speaker at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the University of Cambridge. She is currently on the Editorial Board for the journals Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress, Ancient Mesoamerica, and American Anthropologist. She was lead curator of The Aztec World, an exhibit of Aztec culture, presented at the Field Museum of Chicago in 2008-09. The companion volume to this exhibit is Brumfiel & Feinman, eds., The Aztec World (2008). David Horowitz lists Liz as one of America’s 100 Most Dangerous Professors.
RECENT COURSES TAUGHT
101 Debating the Aztecs
383 Environmental Anthropology
390 The Archaeology of Ethnicity in America
422 Archaeological Thought in Historical Perspective
490 Engendering the Past
Alien bodies, everyday people, and internal spaces: Embodiment, figurines and social discourse in Postclassic Mexico (with Lisa Overholtzer). In C. Halperin, K. Faust, and R. Taube, eds. in press
Mesoamerica. In The Oxford Handbook of Archaeology, C. Gosden and B.
Cunliffe, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. in press.
Gender, cloth, continuity and change: Fabricating unity in anthropology.
American Anthropologist 108:861-877. in press .
Production and Power at Postclassic Xaltocan (edited volume). Pittsburgh and Mexico City: University of Pittsburgh Department of Anthropology and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. 2005.
Methods in Feminist and Gender Archaeology: A Feeling for Difference—and Likeness. In The Handbook of Gender in Archaeology, S.M. Nelson, ed., pp.31-58. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira. 2006
Opting In and Opting Out: Tula, Cholula, and Xaltocan. In Settlement and Subsistence in Early Civilizations: Essays reflecting the contributions of Jeffrey R. Parsons, R.E. Blanton and M.H. Parsons, eds, pp. 63-88. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.20. 2005.
Materiality, Feasts, and Figured Worlds in Aztec Mexico. In Rethinking Materiality, E. DeMarrais, C. Gosden, and C. Renfrew, eds., pp. 225-37. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. 2005.