CSU professor wins ‘Nobel Prize for anthropologists’

Kate Browne
CSU anthropologist Kate Browne takes notes while interviewing a victim of Hurricane Harvey. Browne will receive the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology.

Katherine Browne, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and Geography at Colorado State University, has been named winner of the prestigious Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology, joining a list of previous winners who are counted among the giants of the field.

Browne, who started her teaching career at CSU in 1994, will be honored by the American Anthropological Association on Friday, Nov. 16, at its annual convention in San Jose, Calif. Previous winners include Margaret Mead, Claude Levi-Strauss, Ashley Montagu and Sherry Washburn – all among the nation’s most influential anthropologists.

“I was flabbergasted when I heard that I had won,” Browne said. “What makes it so gratifying is to know I had been nominated by my peers.”

Kate BrownePost-Katrina research

Browne’s research in disaster recovery following Hurricane Katrina has been widely praised. Her groundbreaking work while studying the struggles of a 150-member extended family displaced by the disaster has helped change the narrative about how attention to culture can help improve recovery success. FEMA recruited her earlier this year to help lead a workshop and produce a major report related to its new 2018-2022 Strategic Plan to “Build a Culture of Preparedness.”

“It’s hard to overstate the significance of the Franz Boas Award in our field,” said Mica Glantz, chair of CSU’s Department of Anthropology and Geography. “Kate got the award named after the Father of Modern Anthropology, someone we all revere. Previous winners are some of the biggest names in our field, and most of them come from super-elite institutions. Honestly, for anthropologists, this is like winning the Nobel Prize, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Kate.”

The Boas Award honors “extraordinary achievements that have well served the anthropological profession.” In bringing this award to CSU, Browne honors both the university and the Department of Anthropology and Geography.

Long career at CSU

Interestingly, Browne didn’t start out as an anthropologist, spending 10 years in the business world before returning to Southern Methodist University to pursue her lifelong passion for understanding what makes societies different from each other. After earning a master’s and Ph.D. from SMU, she started her second career at CSU and has been here for the past 24 years. She is a member of the Colorado School of Public Health.

Browne has written three books, dozens of peer-reviewed papers, and produced two documentary films. Glantz said her scholarly acumen is exemplary.

“She’s a force in our department and at CSU,” she said.

Renowned research and teaching

Browne is as passionate about teaching as she is about research, and she delights in helping students develop critical thinking skills. She earned the Ann Gill Excellence in Teaching Award for the College of Liberal Arts in 2016, and has been nominated as a University Distinguished Professor, CSU’s highest faculty honor.

“I always tell my students to explore widely, find what you really care about, and do that,” Browne said. “No matter what happens, if you do something you love you can always find satisfaction in it. With my career in business, I was successful but it didn’t feed my curiosity. I went back to school so I could pursue what I love, and my students pick up on that energy and many feel inspired by it.

“To me, this award is an incredible bonus on top of what has already been a tremendous life of satisfaction.”