Robert Hall was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin and grew up with three generations of Stockbridge-Munsee women, so it’s no surprise he became known by his colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a leading authority on Native Americans.
Jim Brown, professor emeritus at Northwestern University, told the Chicago Tribune that Hall’s books—An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual (University of Illinois Press, 1997) and a forthcoming companion Touching History: Four Centuries of Indian-White Relations—mark a turning point in Native American studies.
But Hall won’t see his forthcoming book in print: He walked on March 16, at age 85 from complications associated with carcinoid cancer.
He will be missed by the community at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He taught there from 1968 to 1998 and spent 10 of those years as chair of the Anthropology Department.
“Dr. Hall was a wonderful teacher and true scholar,” wrote Lisa Stringer on a guest book at Legacy.com. “He was always willing to help a student or share an idea or thought. It was a privilege to be one of his students at the University of Illinois at Chicago.”
Another guest book entry notes how influential his work as an archaeologist was: “Robert was one of the most influential archeologists of the 20th century in North America and especially in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest. His numerous contributions to archeology are great in number,” wrote Kurt Sampson.
Before attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison on the GI Bill, Hall served in the Navy during World War II. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology and studied contemporary Indian culture in Venezuela in 1953.
He met his wife, Barbara, upon his return. She was an undergraduate studying anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. They spent decades doing field work together after being wed in 1958.
“We spent our weekends visiting archaeological sites he was writing about for his dissertation,” Barbara Hall told the Chicago Tribune.
“He changed the entire way in which Native American studies were looked at,” Jim Phillips, Field Museum curator, told the Chicago Tribune. “He was one of the Renaissance men that knew all the languages—he was a linguist, he was an archaeologist, he was an anthropologist, he was a technologist.”
Hall hired Phillips as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1969.
“He would talk to anybody about archaeology,” Phillips told the Tribune. “I don’t care if you were 10 years old or you were 100. He was just an inquisitive guy who was interested in everything.”