The anthropology department at The University of Arizona, one of the world's best-known anthropology programs, has a new head. Barbara Mills is only the seventh department head in the unit's 93-year history, and the first woman to hold that post.
She takes over for Regents' Professor John W. Olsen, who stepped down in July after more than 10 years as head. Olsen resigned to focus his time and energy on teaching and research, including his ongoing archaeological fieldwork in Mongolia and Tibet.
Like most of her predecessors, Mills is an archaeologist. She has taught at the UA since 1991. Her research interests include Southwest archaeology, American Indian ceramics, archaeologies of inequality related to gender and colonialism, migration, identity and heritage preservation.
From 1993 to 2004 Mills directed the UA Archaeological Field School, where she worked on heritage projects with the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Hopi Tribe and the Apache Sitgreaves National Forests.
"Without doubt, the best part about stepping down as department head is the certain knowledge that I'm being replaced by someone who has all the qualities of leadership that I aspire to already in place," said Olsen. "She is thoughtful, energetic and creative -- a visionary and consensus-builder in whom I have absolute confidence."
Mills plans to focus on the department's interdisciplinary collaborations and fundraising, and making anthropological research relevant to the greater Tucson community.
"One of anthropology's strengths is in the way that we incorporate a cross-cultural perspective that appreciates how human diversity impacts every facet of human life," Mills said. "Whether it is public health, global warming, migration, globalization, conflict or economic inequality, anthropology has insights to offer.
"Universities today are about breaking down the boundaries between disciplines to solve problems, and anthropologists are great collaborators," Mills said. "These collaborations feed directly into fundraising, whether through grants or private donations, because people fund projects that have relevance. We can also make the results of our work more accessible to the Tucson community.
"Our work is international in scope, but the local community benefits, including our students, by the way that we show how anthropological problem-solving relates to issues that we are all concerned with."
Mills now leads one of the top anthropology departments in the country, currently ranked fifth in the nation by the National Research Council. Its archeology program is ranked second and the linguistic anthropology program is ranked first. The faculty includes University Distinguished Professor J. Jefferson Reid, and four Regents' Professors: Olsen, Jane Hill, Mark Nichter and the retired but still prolific C. Vance Haynes.
History of Anthropology Department Heads
Anthropology at The University of Arizona began in 1915 with the appointment of Byron Cummings as professor of archaeology and director of the Arizona State Museum. Cummings also founded the UA Archeological Field School. In 1937, Cummings turned the reins over to his 33-year-old former student, Emil W. Haury.
One of the early giants of Southwestern archaeology, Haury guided the fledgling department to national prominence. He in turn was succeeded by one of his former students, Raymond H. Thompson, in 1964.
Thompson ended his 16-year tenure as department head in 1980, but continued as director of the Arizona State Museum. William A. Stini, a biological anthropologist, became the fourth head of the department, the only non-archaeologist to helm the unit.
William A. Longacre, another former director of the Archaeological Field School, became the fifth head of the department in 1989. Longacre brought in younger scholars in sociocultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistics to the faculty, including women and minorities.
John W. Olsen took over leadership of the department in 1998. Olsen stressed the importance of reconfiguring anthropology in the 21st century. In particular, he promoted an integrated, synergistic approach to teaching, minimizing the methodological and theoretical distinctions among anthropology's traditional subdisciplines. Under his leadership, the department also raised more than $11 million dollars in donations and planned gifts, most of them now fulfilled.
Mills is excited about her new leadership role in one of the oldest and best anthropology departments in the country.
"There are many challenges for all of us because of the current economic climate," Mills said. "I am committed to creatively meeting these challenges and to continuing the tradition of excellence within our department. I believe that we can provide an outstanding education for our students while at the same time conducting world-class research."