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Catherine Julien

by Cheryl Roland

June 1, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Catherine Julien.
Dr. Catherine Julien
Update: A public memorial service celebrating the life of Dr. Catherine Julien, professor emerita of history, will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, in the Atrium of WMU's Gilmore Theatre Complex. Details

Dr. Catherine Julien, professor of history at Western Michigan University and an acclaimed expert on the indigenous cultures of the Americas, died May 27 in Turlock, Calif. She was 61.

A faculty member at the University since 1996, Julien was named a WMU Distinguished Faculty Scholar in 2004. She was a working archaeologist and ethnohistorian whose scholarship focused on the cultures of South America that were in place before 1700. A particular focus for her was the Inca empire, which was the largest pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas, included some 13 million people and stretched from what is now Ecuador to Chile.

Over 40 years, her research took her repeatedly to the Andes to do fieldwork in locations like Machu Picchu, the famed "Lost City of the Incas." She used those trips as well to introduce dozens of students to Inca research. Recently, her own research focused on Spanish explorer and writer Cabeza de Vaca. A multi-volume work on him will be completed by WMU Spanish professor Dr. Pablo Pastrana-Perez, who is her collaborator on the project.

She was the author of "Reading Inca History," an acclaimed work published in 2000 that examined Inca historical tradition as recorded by the Spaniards during the 16th and 17th centuries. The book was awarded the Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize for best book-length work in the field of ethnohistory in 2000. It also won the Modern Language Association's Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize for best book in the field of Latin American and Spanish literatures and cultures.

In addition to the 10 books she published during her lifetime and those now in process, she published 14 articles in leading journals in her field, contributed 22 chapters to important edited collections and published articles in some two dozen popular publications. She also presented nearly 100 scholarly papers at conferences, many as keynote speaker.

Julien won 14 national and international grants and fellowships including a grant from the National Academy in Britain, a Humboldt Fellowship and numerous National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, including two recent ones to support the Cabeza de Vaca project. She also was awarded two Fulbright Fellowships and a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship.

Her faculty years at WMU included extensive service commitments. She served over the years as her department's director of undergraduate studies, director of graduate studies and mentor to graduate students and new faculty.

She earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley in 1971, 1975 and 1978, respectively. Prior to joining the WMU faculty, she taught at Berkeley, Germany's University of Bonn and California State University.

Julien is survived by a daughter, Clara.

A public memorial to celebrate her life will be held on campus during the fall 2011 semester. Details will be announced at a later date.