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Alan Macfarlane
Elizabeth Colson, Cambridge, April 2006

The Refugee Studies Centre is sad to announce that one of its great supporters and leading intellectual collaborators, Professor Elizabeth Colson, passed away aged 99 in Monze, Zambia on 3 August 2016. Elizabeth Colson was a renowned anthropologist who spent many years at the University of California, Berkeley until her retirement. Beginning in the late 1940s, Professor Colson strove to understand the consequences for the Tonga people living in Zambezi River of displacement resulting from the building of the Kariba Dam. She followed the changing experiences of these villagers until the end of her life. In the words of David Leonard, the academic work that resulted from this engagement left us “with a 70-year account of the [Tongan people] genealogies, ethnographies and changing life chances.” Through numerous academic articles and books, Professor Colson made a huge contribution to understanding the implications of resettlement related to economic development and to the study of forced migration more generally. Her monograph, The Social Consequences of Resettlement, of 1971 was ground-breaking and innovative. Her influential 2003 article, “Forced Migration and the Anthropological Response”, is still eagerly read by students on the MSc and Summer School in Forced Migration at Oxford well over a decade after publication. Her contributions were not limited to the written word. She played a key role in establishing and consolidating the RSC in its fledgling period from the 1980s and early 1990s. Barbara Harrell-Bond, founder of the RSC, remembers the day Elizabeth first came to visit her at the RSC: “I asked her if she would come for a year to help us. She said yes. I said I had no funds. She said she didn't need any.” Elizabeth Colson’s academic and personal contribution to the Refugee Studies Centre and to the field of Refugee Studies are memorialised in the endowed Elizabeth Colson Professorship in Forced Migration (currently held by Matthew Gibney) and the Annual Colson Public Lecture, which is given annually by an anthropologist of note.