R.I.P.Dennis Dale Cordell (Chad 1968-70)

Dennis Dale Cordell

Cordell, Dr. Dennis Dale DALLAS — Dr. Dennis Dale Cordell, Associate Dean for the University Curriculum/GEC and Professor of History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, died Wednesday, October 16 after a brief battle with cancer. Funeral services will be held at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas on Friday October 25, 2013 at 4 pm, 4015 Normandy Avenue, Dallas TX 75205.

A further celebration of Dr. Cordell’s life and service will be held on November 13th at 4pm in Perkins Chapel of SMU. In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be sent in memory of Dennis Cordell to Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences of Southern Methodist University, PO Box 750402, Dallas TX 75275-0402, or to the First Unitarian Church of Dallas (address above), or to the work of the Peace Corps–The Health and HIV/AIDS Fund, under Special Funds at donate.peacecorps.gov.

Dr Cordell was born in St Louis at 19 minutes after midnight on January 1, 1947 to Harry Jesse Cordell and Jeanne Harrigan Cordell. He was valedictorian of his class at Fox High School in Lee’s Summit, MO, and graduated cum laude in history from Yale University in 1968.

He immediately joined the Peace Corps, serving in Chad in health education and water projects, and developing a life-long love for the continent of Africa. Upon his return in 1970 he enrolled in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin, earning an MA in 1972 and his Ph.D. in African History in 1977 under the tutelage of Dr. Jan M. Vansina. He also completed a Maitrise es-Science in Demography from the Universite de Montreal in 1987. He was fluent in French and Arabic.

He joined the history faculty at SMU in 1977, specializing in comparative world history with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa as well as North Africa, the Middle East, African demography and social history, and the African slave trade and migration. Twenty years later, while continuing to teach and publish, he became the Associate Dean for General Education and spearheaded the transition into the new University Curriculum. He also had oversight of the University Honors Program, the Hilltop and New Century Scholars Programs, and the ESL Program.

He was Founding Co-Director of the SMU Summer in Paris program in 1996 and participated for many years, including his final summer. He was also an adjunct professor of demography at the Universite de Montreal and had taught at the University of Mali. Dr. Cordell authored Dar al-Kuti and the Last Years of the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and, with Joel Gregory and Victor Piche , of Hoe and Wage: A Social History of a Circular Migration System in West Africa, 1900-1975.

He edited or co-edited 5 other volumes on Sub Saharan African history and demography as well as, with Jane Lenz Elder,The New Dallas: Immigrants, Community Institutions and Cultural Diversity: A Collection of Student Papers from SMU. He wrote over 65 articles and book chapters as well as scores of book reviews in English and French in journals such as Journal of African History and the Canadian Journal of African Studies, both of which he served as editor, and Politique Africaine. His articles are included in the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, and the Academic American Encyclopedia.

Dr. Cordell was also the recipient of numerous awards and research grants, including those from the National Science Foundation, American Philosophical Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Professional organizations and positions were numerous, including president of the Canadian Association of African Studies and Chair of the National Program Committee of the African Studies Association (USA). Of all his many awards, he was particularly proud of the Special award from the Canadian Association of African Studies / Association Canadienne des Etudes Africaines to recognize the promotion of bilingualism in French and English, and professional relations between CAAS / ACÒA and the African Studies Association (USA). He was the only non-Canadian to be so honored.

His extensive service to his beloved community of SMU included the new University Curriculum, the President’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, Education Abroad, the University Athletic Committee, the First-Year Experience Task Force, and many others. At the time of his death, he was the President of the Board of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, where he enjoyed selling donuts at the Gay and Lesbian table every Sunday. He had also served as a member of the board of trustees of AIDS Arms.

In addition to, or perhaps in spite of, his sterling record of accomplishment, Dennis Cordell had a special genius for friendship, and he carefully nurtured these relationships life-long. He leaves a loving and grieving community spanning four continents, generations of grateful students and colleagues, and friends who will miss him dearly.

He is survived by his husband Michael Alexander Fuller, his brother Harry C. Cordell and his wife Karen, his sister Suzanne Wildman and her husband Robert, a nephew and three nieces, and countless friends from all over the world. Guardian Funeral Home 5704 James Ave., 817-293-8477

Published in Dallas Morning News on Oct. 22, 2013


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  • I met Dennis 36 years ago in Dallas. We were both at SMU (he an assistant professor of history, me an instructor of freshman writing). RPCVs, no matter where they served, speak a similar language, and so we hit it off right away. When I moved to Colorado, we remained friends, and he was an important resource in the shaping of the idea for the Peace Corps at 50 books. One of the stories that his obituary tells is how a fertile mind can take the seeds gathered from two years’ experience as a PCV and create a garden or a forest or a vision for a fresh world. What a big return from a relatively small investment from the USA. Rest well, Dennis.

  • Why did you not recognize the death of Nancy Guillet Winter, Ethiopia I, 1942 – 1964? I sent all info — some very personal — to John Coyne in late August.

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