Prof. Nancy Munn, Emerita Professor of Anthropology, has passed away on January 20, 2020. Munn joined the University of Chicago in 1976 to become the first female full professor in the Department of Anthropology. A pathbreaking researcher and theorist, she conducted field work in Australia and Papua New Guinea, and made major intellectual contributions to understandings of symbolism, value, and space-time relations.

Munn was raised in New York, completed her PhD at Australian National University in 1961, and taught at University of Massachusetts, Amherst before moving to the University of Chicago. She was a Guggenheim Fellow, held a visiting membership at the Institute for Advanced Study, and won numerous research awards before her formal retirement in 1997. An active presence in the Department of Anthropology until very recently, Munn continued to work on cross cultural understandings of space, time, and place and was a much-loved colleague for faculty and students across campus.

Munn’s first book was Walbiri Iconography: Graphic Representation and Cultural Symbolism in a Central Australian Society (1973, Cornell University Press).  She gave the prestigious Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures at the University of Rochester in 1976 which became, after several years of additional fieldwork, the basis for her most influential work, The Fame of Gawa: A Symbolic Study of Value Transformation in Massim (Papua New Guinea) Society (1986, Cambridge University Press).  In 2010, Munn delivered the keynote lecture for a Department of Anthropology conference exploring “qualia” – a term she used for the ways in which sensations are experienced, coded, and understood within sociocultural orders. This conference provided the basis for a special issue of Anthropological Theory in honor of her work. Her keynote focused on “The Decline and Fall of Richmond Hill” an early 19th century house in what is now Manhattan, part of Munn’s wide-ranging historical study of transformations in economy and landscape in antebellum New York City. This was part of an ambitious book project that continued her groundbreaking contributions to sociocultural understandings of time, space/place, and value.

A memorial service will be announced in the coming months.  Our thoughts and condolences to go out to Munn’s family and friends.