Northwestern anthropology professor shaped her field

Meghan Morris

Elizabeth Brumfiel, a leading scholar of Aztec archaeology and professor of anthropology at Northwestern since 2003, died Jan. 1. Her research fueled her support for gay and labor rights.

Brumfiel was known for her feminist perspective and served as president of the American Anthropological Association, the world’s largest organization of anthropologists. Friend and colleague Cynthia Robin, an anthropology professor at NU, said Brumfiel’s work co-authoring books and editing scholarly publications gave a voice to the voiceless.

Brumfiel researched the often-overlooked people of the past, regardless of gender or racial lines, Robin said.

“She wrote some of the most influential papers in the field that transformed archaeology,” Robin said. “If people are still reading things today she wrote 20 years ago, they’ll read them in another 20 years.”

Robin said the faculty unanimously voted Monday to establish the Elizabeth Brumfiel Award for Best Senior Thesis. Brumfiel was dedicated to undergraduate studies, teaching for 25 years at Albion College in Michigan before her time at NU.

“She recognized undergraduates could do important research and had respect for the contributions they could make in the field in the beginning of their professional careers,” Robin said.

In addition to research and undergraduate teaching, Brumfiel was the lead curator of “The Aztec World,” an exhibit at the Field Museum from October 2008 to April 2009 that traced the rise and fall of Aztec culture.

The anthropology department at NU held a small memorial service for Brumfiel on Monday with faculty, students and her family. A formal memorial service is being planned for later in the academic year.

“She was more than one of the leading scholars,” Robin said. “She was one of the leading pioneers of feminist perspectives.”

Survivors include Brumfiel’s husband of 45 years, Vincent; her son, Geoffrey, and his