Click here to bypass page layout and jump directly to story.=

UC Berkeley >

University of California

News - Media Relations






  Press Releases

  Image Downloads



Anthropologist William Shack, prominent African scholar and graduate dean emeritus, dies at 76
05 Apr 2000

By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- William Alfred Shack, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and dean emeritus of the graduate division, died Friday (March 31) after a courageous battle with cancer.

He was 76.

A prominent scholar of African cultures, Shack was known internationally for his pioneering fieldwork on the Gurage people of Ethiopia and for a series of books on African society. But he was best known on campus for his even-handed, creative stewardship of several administrative posts, including six years (1979-85) as dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate Division.

Shack also was one of the first American anthropologists to undertake ethnographic studies focused on the problems of urban America. In the last years of his life, he returned to that interest, completing a manuscript just before his death on the role of African-American soldiers in the development of the jazz scene in Paris between 1918 and 1939. That work is now in press.

"He was a scholar and a gentleman, one of the leading anthropologists of Africa and a man dedicated to public service," said Paul Rabinow, chair of UC Berkeley's Department of Anthropology.

Shack's public service achievements extended far beyond the campus. As dean of the Graduate Division, he established a student exchange program with several French universities that won him a high honor, the Chevalier L'Ordre National Du Merite, from France in 1987. Earlier in his career, Shack established a department of sociology and anthropology at Haile Sellassie 1 University in Ethiopia.

Also, as chair for 10 years of the International African Institute based in London, Shack played an important role in promoting the study of Africa.

In 1991, UC Berkeley conferred its highest honor, the Berkeley Citation, on Shack, in recognition of his multiple contributions. In addition to his top-ranking position as graduate dean, Shack chaired the anthropology department and was faculty assistant to the vice chancellor on affirmative action.

Shack retired that year after 21 years on the faculty, and "there was no one on campus with a greater number of friends among faculty and administrators," said Elizabeth Colson, professor emeritus of anthropology and Shack's long-time friend.

"He was known as fair-minded, imaginative, critical and helpful - all of this in a typically low-keyed manner that kept him very much his own person," said Colson.

Born in Chicago, Shack served in the South Pacific during World War II and later completed a bachelor's degree at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by a master's degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago.

Following pre-doctoral work in Ethiopia, where he became interested in the never-before-studied Gurage culture, Shack entered the London School of Economics, where he completed a PhD in 1961. He held academic positions at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois before coming to UC Berkeley as professor in 1970.

Shack is survived by his wife, Dorothy Nash Shack of Berkeley; a son, Hailu Araya Shack of San Francisco; a nephew, Charles Vessels of Garden Grove, Calif.; and a niece, Frances Mode of Chicago.

Memorial services will be held Thursday, April 6, at 5 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Faculty Club on campus. Contributions can be sent to the William A. Shack Memorial Fund at the UC Berkeley Foundation, 2440 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, 94720.


UC Berkeley | News | Archives | Extras | Media Relations

Comments? E-mail

Copyright 2000 UC Regents. All rights reserved.