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In Memoriam: Dr. Marjorie Franken

Drid Williams

I first met Marjorie Franken at an American Anthropology Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1988. The last time I saw her, I was on my way to China to teach at an English-speaking college in Zhuhai for two years in August 2007; it was at Los Angeles Airport before I boarded a Cathay Pacific jet that subsequently dropped me in Hong Kong.

     I greatly enjoyed my stay at her house in Altadena, California, for three days. We had planned to get together in 2012 because (great blessing though it may be) the telephone is no substitute for a real person. Sad to say, another meeting was not to be. Instead, JASHM offers a gift to its readers in the form of an essay she wrote that was part of a book (now out of print) that was published in 1997.1

     Marjorie first taught anthropology at Arkansas State University, then at several colleges and universities in California, including the University of California, Riverside and Whittier College. She became acquainted with Swahili-speaking peoples while she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya in 1974, which is when she began learning how to speak Swahili. She returned to Kenya in 1983 to study the history and forms of Swahili dancing, completing her doctoral degree in anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, in 1986.

     Her research projects focused on the formation of nationalism, which meant the study of postcolonial cultures. She was interested in Egypt and east Africa. She had an idea that the study of dances could contribute valuable insights into gender roles in human societies, and she was, of course, right. She was working on a book on Egyptian dancing, which now, will never be completed, but there is an essay, "Egyptian Cinema and Television: Dancing and the Female Image" that appeared in Visual Anthropology (8 [1996]: 267–85), that gives some indication of the breadth and depth of her knowledge.

     She was born in Kansas (she wouldn't tell me the date!), and she died on November 22, 2011, in California, where she lived most of her life with her three dogs that she loved. She was a great friend and a good anthropologist. We mourn the loss of a colleague who shared our convictions about the value of the dance and human movement studies and who left us at least a few of the many and valuable insights into humanity that she gained during her lifetime.


1 Drid Williams, ed., Anthropology and Human Movement: The Study of Dances (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 1997), 201–14.



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