Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vern Dorjahn

November 2009 when I returned from my Sojourn to Italy I received word from Vern Dorjahn’s daughter that he passed away the week before. This is a short note on what Vern meant to me.

Vern Dorjahn was an Anthropologist in the old fashion sense of the word. Gets his shots and then travels to remote places. Places in which have no modern facilities the riverboat comes twice a year to bring the mail to and from the outside world. There are no medical services what so ever except the nurse who travels on the boat, for all else local traditional medicine will have to do. In a little over two years the boat picks him up to travel to the Capital to make his connections to return to his University half way around the world. Here he writes up his research and teaches classes only to repeat the process traveling to remote places again and again.

Again an old fashion kind of Anthropologist who studied under Herskovits who studied under Boas a direct line of descent to the father of American Anthropology. I having studied under Vern the circle remain unbroken.

Vern was both a scholar and a storyteller in traditional ways. I met Vern while I was a Sociology graduate student. After receiving a Masters Degree in a Doctoral Program in my Sociology program I changed my major because of him. This meant I started over again taking a whole new set of core courses this time in Anthropology.

Because I enjoyed Vern’s classes so much I took each and every class he taught twice. Given that I got A’s the first time around the registrar at the University of Oregon suggested I not, I did any way. He was the master and I was the apprentice. I remember his expression when I went to his office and ask if I could study under him. I told him of my plan to read all that he wrote and take each class twice first to learn the content and then again to learn his story telling style. Both times I took the classes for grades. I asked Vern to chair both my comprehensive exam committees and to chair my dissertation committee. After receiving my PhD I would call every Sunday afternoon to check in. I would make annual pilgrimages to Eugene to set at his feet to learn Anthropology. As long as he lived he was the teacher and I the student.

Michael Joseph Francisconi

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