Bohannan, Laura 1922-2002

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Bohannan, Laura 1922-2002
(Elenore Smith Bowen, Laura Smith)


Born Laura Smith, 1922; died of heart failure and pneumonia, March 19, 2002, in Chicago, IL; married Paul Bohannan (an anthropologist), May 15, 1943 (divorced, 1975); children: Denis Michael. Education: University of Arizona, B.A., 1943, M.A., 1947; Oxford University, Ph.D., 1951.


Anthropologist in Nigeria and Kenya, c. 1951-58; also held teaching positions at University of Chicago and University of Illinois; retired from teaching, 1990. Writer. Military service: Served at the Pentagon as a code-cracker during World War II.


Meville J. Herskovits Award, African Studies Association, 1969, for Tiv Economy.


(With husband, Paul Bohannan) The Tiv of Central Nigeria, International African Institute (London, England), 1953.

Return to Laughter (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1954, published under pseudonym Elenore Smith Bowen, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1964.

(Editor, with John Middleton and David Tait) Tribes without Rulers: Studies in African Segmentary Systems, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1958.

(With Paul Bohannan) A Source Notebook in the Tiv Life Cycle, Human Relations Area Files (New Haven, CT), 1966.

(With Paul Bohannan) A Source Notebook in Tiv History and Political Organization, Human Relations Area Files (New Haven, CT), 1966.

(With Paul Bohannan) A Source Notebook in Tiv Subsistence, Technology, and Economics, Human Relations Area Files (New Haven, CT), 1966.

(With Paul Bohannan) Tiv Economy, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1968.

(With Paul Bohannan) A Source Notebook on Tiv Religion, Human Relations Area Files (New haven, CT), 1969.

Contributor to scholarly journals in the field of anthropology.


Laura Bohannan contributed a slender body of work to the field of anthropology, but her output was significant and continues to be influential even after her death. Bohannan's novel, Return to Laughter, first published in America under the pseudonym Elenore Smith Bowen, remains a classic text in college anthropology classes for its detailed descriptions of field work in Africa in the 1950s. Bohannan's other widely used and often-quoted work is her "Shakespeare in the Bush," a humorous but thought-provoking essay about her attempts to explain the play Hamlet to a group of ethnic Africans, who listen to her story politely but conclude that she must come from a distinctly inferior and superstitious culture.

Born Laura Smith, Bohannan grew up in Arizona and earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona. It was during her undergraduate years that she met and married Paul Bohannan, a fellow anthropologist. After earning graduate degrees, the couple spent much of the 1950s in Nigeria and Kenya, principally studying the Tiv peoples. Many of the works they published together concern the daily lives of this tribe. It was also during the 1950s that Laura Bohannan first published Return to Laughter, her only work of fiction.

Much of Bohannan's teaching career was spent at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She retired in 1990 and died of heart failure and pneumonia in 2002 at the age of seventy-nine.



Chicago Tribune, March 27, 2002, Veronica Gonzalez, "Laura Bohannan, 79, UIC Anthropology Professor, Novelist," p. 8.