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Photograph of a woman

Image description: A woman with short, curly, white hair smiles and crosses her arms. She is wearing a light pink long-sleeved shirt, a long necklace, and two turquoise rings.
Caption: Claire R. Farrer


Claire R. Farrer, professor emerita of anthropology at California State University-Chico, died on September 11, 2020, at the age of 84, while living at ViewPointe Senior Living Community in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She was a prolific and well-respected scholar whose interdisciplinary research made significant contributions to cosmology, ethnoastronomy, and Mescalero Apache ethnography.

After earning her BA in anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley in 1970, she attended University of Texas-Austin where she earned her MA (1974) and PhD (1977) in anthropology and folklore. She began her academic career at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she was an assistant professor of anthropology from 1978 to 1985. In 1985 she was appointed associate professor of anthropology at California State University-Chico, where she later served as coordinator of applied anthropology and professor of anthropology (1989–2001). She retired as professor emerita in 2002, but she continued teaching as a visiting professor and Hulbert Chair in Southwestern Studies at Colorado College, Colorado Springs from 2002 to 2006.

Her main areas of study were cosmology, ethnoastronomy, women’s roles, and public ritual drama, especially among Native Americans of the Southwest. Her most important books include Living Life’s Circle: Mescalero Apache Cosmovision (1991); coeditor with Ray Williamson of Earth and Sky: Visions of the Cosmos in Native American Folklore (1992); Play and Inter-Ethnic Communication: A Practical Ethnography of the Mescalero Apache (1990); and Thunder Rides a Black Horse: Mescalero Apaches and the Mythic Present (1994). Living Life’s Circle was named CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book for 1993, was nominated for the PEN Literary Nonfiction Award, and was first honorable mention for the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing. Her research among the Mescalero Apaches, covering a period of more than 16 years, resulted in some of the earliest works devoted to ethnoastronomy, in which she demonstrated how celestial observations influence behavior in the context of private life and public ritual drama, and how such behaviors are connected to deep structural patterns in Mescalero cosmology.

Farrer (whose friends and former students will remember her as Ginger) was also an inspirational teacher who presented eloquent lectures, modeled high academic standards, critical thinking, and attention to fieldwork ethics. She was also open, sharing, and generous with her time and knowledge, often serving as a mentor and friend, especially to those who were just beginning the journey into anthropology as a profession. She was honored as Outstanding Professor by California State University-Chico (1993–1994).

Her honors and recognition include election as a fellow in the American Anthropological Association, in the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the Society for Cultural Anthropology. She was a visiting professor at the Universiteit Gent, Belgium (1990), a Weatherhead Resident Scholar Fellow at the School of American Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1977–1978), and Harry J. Gray Distinguished Visiting Professor in humanities at the University of Hartford, Connecticut (2002–2003).

(David Carmichael)

Cite as: Carmichael, David. 2021. “Claire R. Farrer.” Anthropology News website, March 19, 2021. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1600

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