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Remembering Sarah M. Nelson

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University of Denver

Announcement  •
Internal  •
Sarah Nelson

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Sarah M. Nelson, Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Distinguished University Professor, on April 27, 2020. Sarah retired after 45 years of service to DU. In addition to her outstanding research and teaching, she served as Interim Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies and on numerous committees.

Sarah was a truly exceptional scholar whose work cross-cut all major areas of anthropology. She did groundbreaking philosophical work around how we know the past. Her studies of ancient art—specifically, the famous Venus Figurines of Ice Age Europe—demonstrated in a particularly engaging way how interpretation of the past reflected contemporary cultural and political biases. She was among the first to focus on the archaeology of gender and laid the foundation for feminist archaeology. She authored many papers and books exploring the role of female rulers and other powerful women in ancient cultures. Sarah was a world-renowned expert on the archaeology of Korea, Northeast China, and more locally, on the Denver Basin. She was the author of 9 and editor of 13 scholarly books and over 150 publications. On the strength of her many scholarly accomplishments Sarah was awarded DU’s highest faculty honor, the University Professorship, along with many other awards both domestic and international.

Late in her career, Sarah began writing novels for a popular audience, which drew on her expertise in Korean and Chinese archaeology, with titles like Spirit Bird JourneyJade Dragon, and Ancient China’s Tiger Queen.

After her retirement from teaching and administrative work Sarah continued to be a presence for faculty and students, and never really retired as a scholar and mentor. Sarah had a deep institutional memory, and was an invaluable source of knowledge and wise counsel about how the academy works. She will be especially remembered for her many efforts to advance the position of women at DU and in academia. Sarah’s life as a prolific scholar, teacher, and activist was an inspiration to all of us who had the privilege of working with and alongside her. She made us all better scholars and university citizens. Sarah will be missed, but she leaves behind a remarkable, lasting legacy.

Several years ago Sarah established the Dr. Sarah Milledge Nelson Endowed Fund for Student Research, specifically in anthropology, through DU advancement. If you would like to donate to this fund in honor of Sarah you can do so online via the following link:

Dr. Sarah Milledge Nelson Endowed Fund for Student Research in Anthropology 

If you prefer to mail a check directly please send it to: P.O. Box 910585, Denver CO 80291-0585.

Below is also a link to Sarah’s obituary that appeared in the Denver Post. As you will see from condolences sent from colleagues around the world, Sarah was a highly respected and admired scholar, colleague, and friend. Sarah will be missed, but she leaves behind a remarkable, lasting legacy.