Rada (Demerec) Dyson-Hudson

photo1July 8, 1930–April 14, 2016

Rada Dyson-Hudson died on April 14, 2016 in Ithaca, New York after an extended illness. She was born on July 8, 1930 into a scientific family: her mother, Mary Ziegler, was an engineer and science teacher and her father, Milislav Demerec, was a distinguished geneticist who was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and head of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of Quantitative Biology on Long Island.

In her youth, during the 1930s and 1940s, Dyson-Hudson met most of the pioneering evolutionists who were developing the modern synthesis, and during her teenage years she began doing her own research with Theodosius Dobzhansky on drosophila (fruit flies). In 1947, she won the Westinghouse Science Talent Search national competition (top girl) as a high school senior for a study of fruit flies. Following her undergraduate years at Swarthmore College, she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Oxford University in 1950, where she completed her PhD in 1954 on drosophila ecology and systematics under E.B. Ford and A.J. Cain. Her scientific focus was transformed from drosophila ecology and evolution to anthropology when she met and then married Neville Dyson-Hudson in 1953. He was a young anthropology student at Oxford working under E.E. Evans-Pritchard. The young couple moved to Cold Spring Harbor and spent the year planning and seeking funding for a field study of the semi-nomadic pastoral Karimojong people of northeastern Uganda. Dyson-Hudson’s expertise in ecology and scientific method was combined with her husband’s expertise in anthropology to construct a highly competitive and sophisticated research program, and they were funded from a number of sources for the Karimojong study.

The field research between 1956 and 1958 led to a number of collaborative and individual publications and established both their reputations as anthropologists and specialists in East African pastoral populations. In 1964, they moved to Johns Hopkins where Neville Dyson-Hudson had a tenure-track position and moved up through the ranks to professor, but they were unable to secure a permanent position for Rada Dyson-Hudson. In 1973, Neville Dyson-Hudson moved to Binghamton University and shortly after, Rada Dyson-Hudson was offered a position in anthropology at Cornell University. She continued publishing on their pastoral studies and on her rising area of interest in behavioral evolution.

In the late 1970s, Dyson-Hudson began active field research again in East Africa with ecological studies of nomadic Turkana pastoralists from northwest Kenya, a neighboring and ethnically-related population to the Karimojong. The South Turkana Ecosystem Project was a collaboration among Colorado State University ecologists, Kenyan scientists, and US anthropologists to conduct multidisciplinary research on this nomadic people. As a key participant in this project, Dyson-Hudson was a fearless and indefatigable field worker who trekked across the Turkana bushland with two Turkana assistants and mapped much of the area, including all water resources. She and Terrence McCabe published a two-volume HRAFlex book (1985) on anthropological and ecological research, and she authored or was a co-author on ten of the 18 chapters in the Oxford University Press edited volume Turkana Herders of the Dry Savana (1999). Dyson-Hudson was also a pioneer in fighting for women’s rights in academia, but she will be remembered primarily for her major creative contributions to anthropological research. (Michael A. Little)

                                                                                                                               

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