« Out of Africa | Main | Recent Graduate Students Write about their Doctoral Research »

Remembering Daphne Berdahl

Daphne Berdahl was born on June 14, 1964, in Freiburg, Germany, to Robert and Margaret Berdahl. She
graduated from Oberlin College, earned her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1995, and was a James Bryant Conant Fellow in German and European Studies at Harvard University. She joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor of anthropology in 1997 and was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor in 2000. She was also a faculty member in the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota.

She was the recipient of numerous research grants and awards, including two Fulbright Fellowships, a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship from the University of Minnesota, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Professor Berdahl wrote extensively on borders and borderlands, consumption and citizenship, the politics of memory, and post-socialist transitions. She is best known for her book Where the World Ended, a study of the transformations of everyday life in a village on the east side of the east-west German border immediately after German reunification. She is also recognized as one of the first scholars to examine the phenomenon of “ostalgie," the nostalgia experienced by many east Germans for the way of life that disappeared after reunification. She was the co-editor of Altered States, a collection of studies of post-socialist societies in Eastern Europe, and co-editor of the Indiana University Press book series “New Anthropologies of Europe."

In 1990 she married John Baldwin, and they had two daughters, Audrey and Eloise Berdahl-Baldwin.

On February 28, 2008, the first Daphne Berdahl Memorial Lecture took place at the McNamara Alumni Center. Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology, the Institute for Global Studies, the European Studies Consortium, and the College of Liberal Arts, the event brought together Daphne’s family, friends, and colleagues for an evening of lectures and conversations about her work. The event was introduced by University Provost E. Thomas Sullivan and CLA Interim Dean James A. Parente, Jr. Keynote speakers Katherine Verdery (City University of New York Graduate School) and Michael Herzfeld (Harvard University) presented extended discussions of the important place Daphne’s work has in the
anthropology of Europe. Matti Bunzl (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Dominic Boyer Cornell University) presented comments about the two main papers. The outstanding turnout was testimony to the love and respect felt for Daphne across the Department of Anthropology and the College of Liberal Arts. She will continue to inspire us.

Memories of Daphne Berdahl by her Advisees

Lisa Anderson-Levy, PH.D. 2008
I first met Daphne in a graduate-level foundations class. I was struck by how skillfully she steered the discussions to get the most out of the dense readings with which we were engaged. Validating student ideas and opinions while still leading the discussion to ensure we understood the theoretical positions
was no easy feat. Leading without leading was one of Daphne’s strongest qualities as a mentor. My experience in this class, her theoretical poise, and ethnographic finesse, led me to choose Daphne as my advisor. Daphne understood that her students took varying paths to academia and she met them where they were. She was concerned about the whole person, not only the portion engaged in academic pursuits. Her attitude of living life as it is, of enjoying the complexities and satisfactions of academic endeavors, enriched my life and heightened my own awareness of the importance of balance. She had a particular clarity about the importance of gratitude, joy, and work in life. As superb a mentor as she has been to me, her greatest legacy lies in the relationships I will have with my own students using the tools she laid on the path before me.

Ursula Dalinghaus, PH.D. Candidate
Enduring hope, confident patience, expectation of excellence: these are the key phrases that come to mind when I think about Daphne Berdahl’s mentorship during my graduate career. Daphne always recognized that the personal and the professional are deeply intertwined in the practice of becoming a professional anthropologist. Daphne had the extraordinary ability as a mentor and ethnographer to notice the small, often taken for granted details of daily life. A gesture, a tone of voice, a turned-up shirt collar could reveal truths about world events as well as local struggles. In the field I have continued to follow Daphne’s now unspoken exhortation to notice the small things and have discovered time and again the power of the ethnographic project that was at the heart of Daphne’s research, writing, and teaching.

Jennifer Stampe, PH.D. 2007
Daphne taught me many things, but what is crucial is how. She often told students useful stories about her trajectory through graduate school; she was also skilled at pointing to the available but surprising or intractable lessons in our own experiences. Daphne’s courses and writing evinced a commitment to and faith in ethnography. But, for me, it was not until she commended my work for conveying (unwittingly!) the pleasure I took in fieldwork that I began to grasp the larger point—that such pleasure is integral to the effort to understand human experience. I am grateful to her for this revelation, the generous way she inspired it, and much more.

Taku Suzuki, PH.D. 2003
Perhaps more than any intellectual advice that Daphne gave to me during my dissertation research and writing years, I was most inspired by her abundant energy for work and life in general, even during the most trying periods in her life. When I talked to her in the summer of 2007, when her condition
turned significantly worse, she never let me know her trouble, but apologized to me for not keeping up with reading of my book manuscript. Daphne’s compassion for my family—she and Audrey were our wedding guests—and me as her first doctoral advisee, was boundless; she was often more upset than I was with the colleges that did not hire me for a tenure-track position! Like for many others, she is, and will remain, a role model for me as a scholar and mentor.