Joseph Miller, renowned Africanist scholar, passes away at the age of 79

Photo courtesy of University of Virginia Faculty page

Joseph C. Miller, renowned scholar of early African history and the world history of slavery, passed away at on Tuesday, March 12 at the age of 79. He died at the Center for Acute Hospice Care in the company of his wife and children.

Dr. Miller began his academic career in 1961 at Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. He then received an MBA from Northwestern University.

It was at this stage that Dr. Miller arrived on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. He received an MA in African and Comparative Tropical History in 1967 and a Ph.D. in African History just five years later in 1972 under the supervision of Jan Vansina. He was the inaugural Jordan Prize winner in 1969 for his research. His thesis, “Kings and Kinsmen: Early Mbundu States in Angola,” was a pioneering work in the interpretation of oral testimony.

Dr. Miller was then accepted as a professor at the University of Virginia, where he worked for forty-six years until his retirement. During this time, he won the Herskovits Prize from the African Studies Association for his book “Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730-1830” (Madison, 1988) and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for the monograph “The Problem of Slavery as History: A Global Approach” (Yale, 2012), among many other awards and honors. He also served as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia and as President of both the African Studies Association and the American Historical Association.

Joseph Miller was highly respected and admired by all those who knew him. UW-Madison was delighted to welcome him to campus in fall 2018 as part of the first annual Jan Vansina lecture. All the faculty and staff here at the African Studies Program would like to extend their sincerest condolences to his family and friends for this great loss.

Dr. Miller’s wife, Mary Catherine, composed a moving tribute to her husband which you can read here.

Please also enjoy the following relevant links:

Interview of Dr. Miller by the History News Network

Concise History of the Wisconsin School of African History by Dr. Miller