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Completing her sixteenth year as a member of the History Department, Professor Judith Byfield announced to her colleagues and students in 2007 that she was leaving Dartmouth to teach at Cornell University. Before taking up her new position, Professor Byfield was going to work on her next book with a fellowship from the National Humanities Center: “The Great Upheaval: The Egba Women’s Tax Revolt—Gender and Nationalism in Nigeria.”
At Cornell, Professor Byfield will be based in the Africana Studies and Research Center, though she’ll have a joint position in the History and Africana Studies departments, teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses. In her first year, Professor Byfield will be working out of the Cornell Society of Fellows, where she’ll start by teaching a graduate course on Gender and Nationalism.
Ultimately, Professor Byfield will be teaching some of the same classes she offered at Dartmouth over the years, including Pre-Colonial Africa; Africa since 1820; Introduction to African Studies; Caribbean History; Dress, Cloth, and Identity in Africa and the Diaspora; Ethiopia and Ethiopianism; Marriage and Divorce in the African Context; History of Popular Culture in Africa; and Nationalism and Decolonization in Modern Africa.
Professor Byfield was a pioneer of sorts at Dartmouth: as an undergraduate at the College, she had to petition to major in African and African American Studies since neither the AAAS Program nor the official major was in existence then (she later became a member of that program herself).
Graduating from Dartmouth in 1980, Professor Byfield had every intention of becoming an educator, but of a different variety—she wanted to be a primary school teacher. Modifying her AAAS major with a minor in Education, Professor Byfield taught 5th grade at the Ray School after graduation, but discovered that her passions lay elsewhere.
After that discovery, Professor Byfield went on to Columbia to work toward a Ph.D., which she received in 1993. For her dissertation, Professor Byfield spent eleven months in Nigeria in 1988 and focused on Nigerian women and their indigo tie-dye industry. Her study on this topic eventually led to the “Women and the State in Africa” seminar that Professor Byfield developed after joining the Dartmouth faculty in 1991 as well as to her first book, The Bluest Hands: A Social and Economic History of Women Dyers in Abeokuta (Nigeria), 1890-1940 (Heinemann, 2002).
When asked about what she liked most about Dartmouth, Professor Byfield said that it was working with students. She explained: “Some of them drove me a little crazy, but a lot of the experiences were positive. The ones in which I worked closely with students on Honors theses and Independent Studies were some of the very best experiences.”
Professor Byfield also valued Dartmouth as a refuge from her trips to Nigeria, which she described as “chaotic and unpredictable.” Along with the relative calm that Dartmouth provided, Professor Byfield always enjoyed seeing her colleagues in the History Department, where she said she made some “wonderful friends” and had some “great moments” over the years.
Professor Byfield singled out as a mentor Professor Spitzer, who “first put it in my head to come to Dartmouth” after seeing her at a conference. Professor Byfield mentioned that she developed close relationships with her colleagues through some of the conferences she helped organize, such as one on textile production and distribution in South Asia and Africa with Professor Haynes. Professor Byfield also mentioned Professors Orleck and Darrow as having been wonderful mentors and friends. Finally, she recalled that Professor Ermarth was Chair of the History Department when she was up for tenure and that he “made it so manageable.”
Other than her commitments to the History Department, Professor Byfield also kept busy with her participation in many other aspects of Dartmouth. Completing her tenure as Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program in Spring 2007, Professor Byfield over the years also served on the Steering Committee of the LALACS Program, the Personnel Committee of AAAS, the Editorial Committee of Dartmouth Life, the MLK Committee, the Tucker Council, and the Selection Committee for the Thurgood Marshall Dissertation Fellowship.
When asked how she managed all of these tasks on top of her teaching commitments, Professor Byfield admitted: “So many requests come at you. So it’s a problem if you have a problem saying ‘no,’ like I do.”
Nevertheless, some of those experiences proved more than worthwhile. Professor Byfield counted among her proudest accomplishments at Dartmouth the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Program in Winter 2007, for which she served as Co-Chair. “It was really wonderful. The group of people on the committee were really creative, the speakers were wonderful, and everything came together well.”
Asked about what she would miss most about Dartmouth, Professor Byfield said: “I will miss the daily interaction with a lot of friends. I know I’ll come visit and be on the phone, but I’m going to miss dinner at Annelise [Professor Orleck]’s house and their kids. I will miss just being here.”
Professor Byfield added: “Cornell is in the midst of a major African initiative that’s very exciting, but I have to admit there are moments when the reality of leaving sets in, and I really get emotional. It will be hard to leave.
Last Updated: 10/15/08