Frederic N Hicks died July 9, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky at age 85, a few months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. At the time of his death he was professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Louisville, where he had taught most of his professional career until he retired in 1996. Fred’s passing marks the end of a long, distinguished career in Mesoamerican ethnohistory and archaeology. He was an active participant at many local, regional, national and international professional meetings and fieldtrips, where he became known, esteemed and liked by generations of scholars and students.
Born in New Orleans in 1928, Fred spent his youth in Connecticut and graduated from the Putney School in Vermont. Following military service in the Korean War, he graduated from the University of New Mexico, and in 1963 received his PhD at UCLA. A Fulbright fellowship in the early 1960s took him to Paraguay for a year, after which he began his long association with the University of Louisville. His wife, Judith Joel, who died in 1996, was an anthropologist and linguist whose expertise included the Paipai language of northern California. Fred and Judith were active in anti-racist and anti-discrimination causes in Kentucky. He served in leadership positions with the Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the Southern Organizing Committee, and the Kentucky Interfaith Taskforce on Latin America and the Caribbean.
Fred’s modest personality and informal demeanor sometimes belied his profound scholarship on precolumbian Aztec society. He made fundamental contributions to a number of topics, including the nature of taxation, tribute, labor organization, political dynamics of local and imperial organizations, market organization and exchange systems, the nature of stratification and inequality, and the social organization of cities and communities. Fred explored social domains often ignored by other ethnohistorians, such as life in small villages and political developments outside the imperial capitals and states. This reflected his dedication to and situations of commoners while not ignoring elites and powerful people.
As a graduate student at UCLA Fred worked on George Brainerd’s archaeological project at Cerro Portezuelo, Mexico, and after retirement Fred returned to writing up the project materials. His article about the site’s architecture was published in Ancient Mesoamerica shortly before his death. Fred also recently co-edited with Barbara Williams the Codex Vergara that reflects his decades of experiences in Mexican archives, his deep knowledge of the ethnohistorical literature, and extensive personal collection of source materials. While working on the Vergara, Fred relished the opportunity to be in the field, walking the fields and hills of Tepetlaoztoc to find settlements depicted in the codex. More than most ethnohistorians, Fred interacted closely with archaeologists and he was also a geographer and cartographer at heart, who loved to hand-draw maps.
Throughout his work and his life Fred Hicks was extraordinarily patient, optimistic, affable, and unflappable. One could not ask for a better colleague or friend. He will truly be very much missed by all who knew him. (Jeffrey Parsons, Barbara Williams, Deborah Nichols, Michael Smith)