On Monday, we received the sad news that Fredrik Barth, professor emeritus at the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo and Boston University had died at the age of 87.
Fredrik Barth was a world famous social anthropologist for decades, and he ranks among the most frequently cited Norwegian researchers. His introduction to the renowned collection of essays titled Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (1969) have been cited almost 10 000 times according to Google Scholar.
Fredrik Barth wrote his doctoral thesis (1957) on the basis of a fieldwork undertaken in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. As a newly awarded doctor, he was appointed as docent in social anthropology at the University in Bergen in 1961, and he became the founding figure of the discipline in Bergen.
In 1963, Barth was invited by UNESCO to become a guest professor at the University of Khartoum in Sudan. During the his stay there, Barth undertook a short fieldwork in Darfur in western Sudan, which resulted in the article Economic spheres in Darfur (1967). Fredrik Barth was thus the initiator of research in Sudan by scholars from the University of Bergen. Thereafter followed other students and researcher from Bergen in Barth’s footsteps to Sudan: Gunnar & Randi Håland, Leif Manger, Gunnar Sørbø, Anders Bjørkelo, Terje Tvedt – just to mention some of the most important researchers from the University of Bergen that have had Sudan as their field of study. Furthermore, the first doctoral dissertation handed in at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen was written by Sudanese Abdel Ghaffar M. Ahmed under the supervision of Barth. So, it is curious that the online newspaper of the University of Bergen, På Høyden, has left out Sudan from the list of countries where Barth undertook research – for although it was not among his most important fieldworks, the link with Sudan was significant for research in both social sciences and humanities at the University of Bergen for several decades. Gunnar and Randi Håland themselves undertook fieldwork in Darfur shortly after Barth, and some of their photographs from Darfur in the 1960s can be found in the online exhibition Darfur before.
I was never a student of Barth myself, but by being a student of his former students at the University of Bergen had a great influence on the topics that I chose for my master and doctoral theses, since ethnicity was central in both. It was therefore with utmost respect for a great scholar that yesterday a small exhibition in honour of Fredrik Bart was prepared at my new workplace at the Volda University College Library.
I wish that a new generation of students will find inspiration in Fredrik Barth’s exceptional life and outstanding academic career, for although a great scholar has passed away, his work lives on. Nevertheless, our thoughts go to the family and close colleagues of Barth for their loss.