Former Anthropology Chair’s Family Creates Award in His Memory
By: Nick Santangelo
Temple University’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA) is proud to announce the creation of the Elmer S. and Anna Lois Miller Undergraduate Field Research Award. The late Elmer S. Miller was a CLA Anthropology professor from 1966-1996, served as department chair for over nine years, oversaw 33 PhDs and mentored countless undergrads. Dr. Miller’s daughters, Lisa and Rosina Miller, along with his wife Anna Lois Miller made the award possible through a generous gift to the college.
"It is a pleasure to give this gift to Temple’s Anthropology Department where Elmer and I felt so welcomed in 1966 and where Elmer developed a sense of community and belonging,” says Lois Miller. “Elmer took great joy in teaching, and I am delighted that his legacy can continue to help students learn and grow."
Part of that legacy has always been helping the college grow, too. In 1970, Dr. Miller developed a desire to educate graduate students. Knowing how valuable the professor was to the CLA community, the college encouraged Dr. Miller to found CLA’s Anthropology doctoral program.
And though the CLA community lost Dr. Miller in 2019, the research award given in his name ensures his memory and impact will stay with us into the future. Lisa L. Miller believes her father’s face would light up with excitement if he could hear the news of the award’s creation. Dr. Miller cared a great deal about encouraging his students to pursue their passions and curiosities about the world. The award will empower many students to do just that.
“Looking back on his own life and thinking about how much being out of his comfort zone and community shaped his whole life,” explains Lisa,” I think he would agree that that's just an extraordinary opportunity for people to have.
“This award is an opportunity for curious students to pursue that curiosity and better understand other people, other perspectives, other cultures, other ways of being, other ways of looking at the world. It gives them a real opportunity to do that, one they might not otherwise have had.”
As Rosina recounts, it was an experience of this very sort that shaped Dr. Miller’s belief system and inspired his anthropology career. A Lancaster County, Pennsylvania native, Dr. Miller was raised in a rural Mennonite home. Such was his intellectual and global curiosity, that he questioned the church’s dogma from a young age. And though he completed only one year of high school before going to work on a farm, he obtained his GED and earned a BA and Masters of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite College (now University) before departing with Lois for five years of missionary work with the Argentine Toba.
“I remember dad saying he learned so much about Toba beliefs and culture from living among the people and ‘being a brother,’ as he described his role,” says Rosina. “He found it so interesting that the Toba embraced the missionaries and their concept of God, but they placed this God right alongside their own spirits and gods.”
“His questioning about his own religion is part of the trajectory that fueled his fascination with this entirely new world.”
Pictured from left to right: Aurelio López, the first president of Argentina's Iglesia Evangélica Unida and Elmer Miller, former Temple Anthropology chair.
It was a world that Dr. Miller wasn’t content to experience only in the halls and classrooms of Temple. Lisa and Rosina fondly remember the department parties he hosted and the parade of students and professors who visited their home for dinners and debates. Rosina says those scholarly discussions covered topics like structuralism and post-structuralism as well as the teachings of French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.
Whether in the home, the classroom or the field, Dr. Miller remained intellectually curious his entire life and constantly engaged anyone who would listen. As a child, Rosina was embarrassed by her father starting conversations with strangers, such as those riding the subway to Phillies games. But as she and her sister grew, it warmed their hearts to see their dad put smiles on people’s faces.
What’s more, they say Dr. Miller often left those he encountered cracking up. As one mentee remembers, however, he also left them feeling challenged and inspired.
“Elmer Miller was an extraordinary anthropologist and teacher who treated his undergraduate students with exceptional seriousness,” recalls Hana Cervinkova, CLA ‘97. “He was demanding and kind. In his seminars, he pushed us to think beyond dichotomies and taught us to value doubt as an intellectually and civically constructive stance in a multicultural world.
“As I move through my professional life as an anthropologist, I have a growing sense of gratitude that I was so fortunate as to have Elmer Miller—the most generous anthropologist and pedagogue—as my undergraduate mentor.”
The College of Liberal Arts is deeply grateful to Elmer, Anna, Lisa and Rosina Miller for all the possibilities they’ve created and continue to create for our students and alumni.
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