EVON ZARTMAN VOGT, JR.—“Vogtie” to his friends and countless generations of students—was a modest and unassuming scholar who nevertheless managed to transform the entire field of Maya ethnography, altering our views of both the ancient and modern Maya in the process. Vogt did so by spending 35 years among the Tzotzil Maya of Zinacantan in Chiapas, Mexico. His enormous dataset led him to generate new insights about how communities change over time while conserving and maintaining many traditions. His comprehensive analyses of Maya ritual, religion, kinship, social organization, and settlement pattern will link his name forever to Zinacantan and the Tzotzil.
Vogtie was a mentor and role model for me, and for many other students, during his 41 years of teaching at Harvard. In retirement (1989-2004) he remained generous, gregarious, gracious, and more prolific than most scholars half his age.
VOGT&RSQUO;S FAMILY AND HIS EARLY YEARS
Vogt’s father, Evon Z. Vogt, Sr., was born into an American family of Swiss and German descent in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, in 1880. In 1892 the family moved to Dayton, Ohio. Vogt Sr. attended the University of Chicago until his senior year, at which time he contracted tuberculosis. His physician recommended a move to the Southwest to recover, and he chose New Mexico. By the time he had recovered his health, he had decided to stay in the Southwest, because he liked it so much.
In 1914 on his way back from a trip to France the elder Vogt stopped in Chicago to visit his brother, who had married a widow with two grown daughters. One of those daughters, Shirley Bergman, became his wife on July 17, 1915. They honeymooned in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains east of Santa Fe and then on the ranch house he had built near Ramah, New Mexico. There he and Shirley settled down to start a family. Their first child and only son, Evon Vogt, Jr., was born on August 20, 1918, in Gallup. His arrival was followed by the births of three girls: Barbara (Mrs. Richard Mallery of Santa Fe), Jo Ann (Mrs. Paul Davis of Ramah), and Patti (Mrs. Paul Merrill of Ramah). All four children enjoyed life on a sheep ranch among very diverse neighbors.
VOGT&RSQUO;S CHILDHOOD NEIGHBORS AND THE ROLE THEY PLAYED IN HIS FUTURE CAREER
The Vogts lived among Navaho, Zuni, Mormons, and Mexican Americans. Vogt Sr. spoke English, Spanish, French, German, and even some Zuni and Navaho. On occasion his Zuni and Navaho neighbors came to visit and were often invited to eat and spend the night. The younger Vogt loved these visits and later described his childhood home and its environs as a “rural microcosm of the United Nations lying within forty miles of the Vogt Ranch.”
Vogt always said that his father stimulated his interest in other cultures by taking him (1) to the Zuni pueblo, first to see the summer Kachina dances and then to the ceremony in late November/early December, when 12-foot-tall masked Shalako gods came to visit new houses from midnight to sunrise; (2) to the less acculturated Navaho living in the Canyon de Chelly; and (3) to a performance of the Hopi Snake Dance at Walpi, where the snake priests danced with live rattlesnakes in their mouths. These exposures to ethnic and linguistic diversity influenced Vogt in several ways, surfacing when he began graduate school in anthropology. Vogt said that he developed a “burning curiosity about other ways of life” and that it was exciting “to study and try to understand them, even if you can’t join them.”
Vogt spent his childhood reading, studying, and helping his father with the sheep. He once described to me in some detail everything he knew about herding, shearing, and dipping sheep, but then quickly added, “It’s very hard work and often quite lonely.” At the height of his family’s ranching operation they were responsible for 200,000 acres and 12,000 sheep. It was a huge job, and it all fell apart financially after the “Big Snow” of 1931, a devastating storm that led to the death of almost all the animals. That event made the younger Vogt yearn for a career with more security, one that was “not nearly as lonely, with only sheep to talk to.” He did not know it at the time, but a job with tenure was in his future.
Vogt attended the nine grades taught at the village school at Ramah and then went to Gallup High School (45 miles from his ranch) to continue his education in the tenth grade and beyond. At Gallup High he became the senior class president and graduated first in his class.
Vogt’s father encouraged him to apply to his alma mater, the University of Chicago. Vogt Jr. was awarded a full scholarship and entered Chicago in the fall of 1937. There his freshman advisor, Earl Johnson, encouraged him to major in anthropology, noting that Vogt already knew quite a bit about the Navaho, Zuni, and Mexican Americans of the Southwest. Vogt chose geography instead.
The gap between Gallup High and the University of Chicago was tremendous, and Vogt had to work day and night to learn all he was expected to. In his sophomore year he pledged Delta Upsilon (he was considered a “legacy,” since it was his father’s old fraternity), where he lived for the next three years.
In 1941 Vogt graduated with an A.B. in geography, despite not having found the field as exciting as expected. His background in geography was put to very good use later on, when he pioneered the use of aerial photography to understand Tzotzil Maya settlement patterns (see below).
After interviewing with Professor Fay-Cooper Cole, chair of the Department of Anthropology, Vogt changed fields and secured a Charles R. Walgreen Fellowship to study anthropology in graduate school. During the summer of 1941 he secured work as a ranger at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona, building on previous experiences as a ranger at El Morro National Monument (just 10 miles east of his family’s ranch) and Bandelier National Monument near Santa Fe.
On September 4, 1941, Vogt married fellow student Catherine Christine Hiller (“Nan” to her friends). They honeymooned in the Southwest just as Vogt’s parents had in 1915. They camped at the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelly, and then returned to Chicago, where Vogt entered graduate school in anthropology.
VOGT BEGINS HIS CAREER IN ANTHROPOLOGY
The University of Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s was a very exciting place to study anthropology. The innovative Robert M. Hutchins was still chancellor, ethnographer Robert Redfield was dean of Social Sciences, archaeologist Fay-Cooper Cole had started a new graduate program in anthropology, and in that department were such luminaries as Redfield, Edward Sapir, William Lloyd Warner, Fred Eggan, and Sol Tax. Vogt once said, “In my 60 years of association with universities, I have never again encountered the kind of exhilarating intellectual electricity in the air that I enjoyed as an undergraduate at Chicago.” At the end of his first semester of graduate school, however, Vogt postponed his studies because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He joined the Navy and spent nearly five years on missions to Brazil, the Pacific, and elsewhere.
Vogt was finally able to return to graduate school in January of 1946. He undertook his first anthropological fieldwork in Illinois, resulting in a master’s thesis on the Norwegian farmers of Grundy County. He was preparing to choose a Ph.D. dissertation topic when his first cousin once-removed, anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, came to lecture at Chicago; Vogt discussed possible topics with him. Kluckhohn was fluent in the Navaho language and had been studying the Ramah Navaho for years. He suggested that Vogt might focus on how Navaho veterans were adjusting to life back in Ramah after the war. During the war many of these Navaho had worked as “code talkers” and felt themselves to be an integral part of the United States. Once home in Ramah, they felt marginalized again.
THE HARVARD YEARS
While writing his dissertation on the Navaho, Vogt applied to the newly established Department of Social Relations at Harvard, where he was offered an instructorship. In December 1948 he finished his dissertation, Navaho Veterans: A Study of Acculturation (published in 1951 as Navaho Veterans: A Study of Changing Values). He was then promoted to assistant professor at Harvard, the institution where he was to spend his entire teaching career. In the course of writing his dissertation Vogt had become increasingly interested in values and beliefs and in comparative studies, aware that groups (and even individuals within groups) perceive things differently because of the cultural values and beliefs they hold.
During his years as assistant professor, Vogt (along with Clyde and Florence Kluckhohn and John M. Roberts) codirected the Ramah Project, whose formal title was “The Comparative Study of Values in Five Cultures.” Vogtie’s interest in comparative studies was inspired by his professor, Fred Eggan, well known for his “method of controlled comparison.” In 1955 Vogt published Modern Homesteaders: Life in a Twentieth Century Frontier Community, and in 1966 (with Ethel M. Albert) he brought out The People of Rimrock: A Study of Values in Five Cultures. All these early projects kept Vogt in familiar terrain—the Southwest United States—but that was soon to change.
VOGT&RSQUO;S CAREER AMONG THE TZOTZIL MAYA OF MEXICO
In the summer of 1954 Vogt traveled to Mexico; there he met Alfonso Caso, director of the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI). In 1955 Caso invited Vogt to tour INI study centers in Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. Of all the places he saw, it was the Chiapas Highlands with its many small villages of monolingual Tzotzil and Tzeltal that fascinated him the most.
Now interested in doing fieldwork near San Cristóbal de las Casas, Vogt established a friendship with Alfonso Villa Rojas, INI director for the Tzotzil and Tzeltal area. Vogt and Villa Rojas had a lot in common, both having received degrees from Chicago, where they studied with Redfield. Villa Rojas had collaborated with Redfield in the study of Yucatecan communities such as Chan Kom, so he knew how to set up a project. He opened doors for Vogt, and their collaboration continued for years. In the 1960s when Vogt edited two volumes of the Handbook of Middle American Indians, he of course asked Villa Rojas to write the chapter on the Tzeltal.
Unlike their mentor Redfield, both Vogt and Villa Rojas were just as interested in the ancient Maya as in the contemporary Maya. Vogt pursued this interest in time depth further than most ethnologists; he envisioned tracing the contemporary Maya from their prehistoric protoculture and protolanguage by means of a framework he eventually called the “phylogenetic model” (see below).
Vogt decided to focus his study on the municipality of Zinacantan, an area of about 117 square kilometers just to the west of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. He concentrated on the ceremonial center of Zinacantan at 2,100 meters, later studying its surrounding hamlets at elevations of 1,500 to 2,400 meters. In 1957 he and Nan rented their project headquarters (later to be known as the Harvard Ranch) from Calixta Guiteras-Holmes, a Cuban anthropologist who had worked with the Tzotzil of Chenalhó and was to publish Perils of the Soul: The WorldView of a Tzotzil Indian in 1961.
The Harvard Ranch hosted (and sometimes housed) a wide range of foreign visitors, students, and professors. The birthday of every project member was celebrated with a cake, the peak coming when, as Vogt put it, “We once celebrated 10 students’ birthdays with 10 birthday cakes!” I was fortunate to be a visitor in 1972 when “Vogtie” gave me an all-day tour of his informants’ fields and houses. We ended the day appropriately enough at a birthday party for Gertrude Duby Blom, the widow of legendary ethnographer Frans Blom, who had worked among the Lacandon Maya of the Chiapas lowlands.
Decades of fieldwork in the Chiapas Highlands by Vogt and his legions of students have given us a wonderfully comprehensive view of Zinacantan and its hamlets. Vogt’s Chiapas Project ended up training an amazing 120 undergraduates and 40 graduate students, all of whom did original research with him in the field. The undergraduates produced senior honors theses, and the graduate students wrote doctoral dissertations, hundreds of articles, and scores of books. It is unlikely that there has ever been an ethnographic project that attracted so many students who actually went on to publish their results. (The titles of their theses, articles, and books can be found in Bibliography of the Harvard Chiapas Project: The First Twenty Years 19571977 and in Fieldwork Among the Maya: Reflections on the Harvard Chiapas Project.)
FIELDWORK STRATEGY, RESEARCH DESIGN, AND RESULTS
From the beginning of his Chiapas project in 1957, Vogt stressed four things to his students: (1) utilizing the native language; (2) actually living with Zinacanteco families; (3) working alongside the Tzotzil in their households; and (4) attending all their rites and ceremonies. To prepare the students for this fieldwork, Vogt saw to it that Tzotzil was taught at Harvard for more than 20 years by someone who had done fieldwork with him. He even brought Zinacanteco informants up to spend six weeks or more in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so that students could learn from a native speaker.
Vogt’s research design, as revealed in his 1957 proposals submitted to the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation, was “to describe the changes occurring in the cultures of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal” and “to utilize these data for an analysis of the determinants and processes of cultural change.” He went on,
The processes in cultural change are of two major types: the microscopic comprising specific additions, subtractions, or replacements in cultural content—the replacement of stone by steel axes being a classic example; and the macroscopic comprising the more pervasive patterns of change which persist over long time spans and involve basic changes in social structure—the shift from bilateral to unilineal [social] organization being a good example . . . One of the most advantageous features of this [proposed project] is that we shall be able to study cultural changes “on the hoof,” and to control (by comparative analysis) the critical variables in these changes.
This was ambitious, but that was typical of Vogt: to plan ahead, tackle big issues, and spend years in the field collecting empirical data to evaluate hypotheses.
After his first decade of fieldwork Vogt published the landmark ethnography Zinacantan: A Maya Community in the Highlands of Chiapas. That book earned him the 1969 Harvard Faculty Prize for the “best work of scholarship by a faculty member” and the 1969 Fray Bernardino de Sahagún Prize from Mexico for “the best work by a foreign investigator.” As Gary Gossen and Victoria Bricker (1989, p. 3) have stated: “Zinacantan has become a standard world benchmark in cross-cultural studies, and Evon Z. Vogt is indelibly attached to the place, as surely as Boas is attached to the Kwakiutl, Evans-Pritchard to the Nuer, or Malinowski to the Trobriand Islands.”
Vogt also used his empirical research in Zinacantan to evaluate many theoretical issues. For example, in a powerful paper published in 1960 (“On the Concepts of Structure and Process in Cultural Anthropology”), Vogt attempted to reconcile the British focus on structural-functionalism, which tended to create synchronic reconstruction and the American tradition of culture process and history. He proposed (1960, p. 26) that
the less economic security a society has, the less decisive will be social structural and value-system variables in shaping the course of events. The more economic security a society enjoys, the more there emerges the possibility for the exercise of “human choice” based upon value-systems to become crucial in the directions of further change. If this proposition holds, it of course follows that the importance of human values in the course of world history is currently increasing at an accelerated rate.
To analyze process or long-term change Vogt suggested that anthropologists conduct field projects of at least 20 or more years of continuous observation (emphasis in the original), instead of one- or two-year projects that were too short-term to yield data on ongoing process. Vogt followed his own advice by working for 35 years among the Tzotzil.
A second example of Vogt’s commitment to use empirical data to deal with major issues can be found in his 1965 article “Structural and Conceptual Replication in Zinacantan Culture.” Vogt argued that the Zinacantecos “have constructed a model for ritual behavior and for conceptualization of the natural and cultural world which functions like a kind of computer that prints out rules for appropriate behavior at each organizational level of the society.” His familiarity with these general models allowed Vogt to recover a set of specific rules and principles that allows one to understand and interpret a wide range of rituals and ceremonies. He showed how certain ritual behaviors were replicated at various structural levels in the society (from the house, to the patrilineage, to the multilineage waterhole group, to the hamlet) and that certain concepts were replicated in various domains of the culture. For example, the Tzotzil concept of bankilal (older brother) and ’its’inal (younger brother) was extended to include older and younger brother mountains, ritual specialists, drums, waterholes, officeholders in the religious hierarchy, and so on. He also showed that aspects of social ranking and hierarchy, likely a legacy from the prehistoric Maya, were such that all 150 Zinacanteco ritual specialists were ranked from 1 to 150, depending upon the number of years that had elapsed since each practitioner made his debut as a seer.
Vogt brought these themes and others together in another tour de force effort, his 1976 book Tortillas for the Gods: A Symbolic Analysis of Zinacanteco Rituals. This book was the culmination of Vogt’s lifelong interest in ritual, ideology, and religion. His fascination with these topics is also evident in his other writings, from his 1958 book (with William A. Lessa) Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach to his 1998 book chapter “Zinacanteco Dedication and Termination Rituals.” Vogt’s interest in ritual undoubtedly began when his father took him to see performances of ceremonies, dances, and masked figures among the Zuni, Hopi, and Navaho.
Vogt’s interest in ritual prepared him perfectly for studying the Maya.
The Zinacanteco way of life emphasizes ceremony. Hardly a day passes in Zinacantan Center without some ritual being performed as the annual ceremonial calendar unfolds; hardly a week passes, even in the smaller hamlets, without at least one ceremony being performed by a shaman to cure illness, dedicate a new house, or offer candles in a maize field (Vogt, 1990, p. 101).
In 1970 Vogt and his wife, Nan, coauthored another important article on ritual, “Lévi-Strauss among the Maya.” Here they drew on their own eyewitness field data to explore ritual features of one curing ceremony, utilizing (1) a traditional functional approach; (2) an alternate approach stressing cultural replication (that is, emphasizing themes repeated elsewhere in Tzotzil culture); and (3) an approach inspired by Lévi-Straussian structuralism in which they investigated the opposition of nature and culture. In the last approach Vogtie and Nan emphasized the fact that the Zinacantecos make a distinction between naetik(houses and the human-created space filled by the Zinacantecos and their structures) and te’tik (trees or forests, referring to the space that is left unused). They go on to show that human encroachments into the domain of nature can be made so long as they are accompanied by ritual. Each building of a new house entails taking a piece of land from nature, the taking of mud for the wattle and daub walls, and the taking of grass for the thatched roof. This acquisition of things from nature requires ritual acts of compensation. The Earth Lord must be compensated by a house dedication ceremony, including prayers that ask his pardon, and material offerings of liquor and incense. The carving of a new maize field out of the domain of nature also involves land belonging to the Earth Lord, and again he must be compensated with offerings and prayers.
In addition to his functionalist and structuralist efforts, Vogt made contributions to cultural evolutionary theory. His interests lay not so much in general evolution, or increasing complexity, as in divergent evolution—ethnogenesis, the evolution of daughter cultures from a common ancestor. These interests grew out of the work of historical linguists, especially the work of professor Edward Sapir, who was interested in the relationships among languages and in determining the way languages had diverged from a common ancestral protolanguage. Vogt first referred to this in 1964 as the genetic model, but revised that term in 1994 to the phylogenetic model to emphasize the fact that it was about culturalchange and divergence, not biological change.
Vogt argued that the Maya were an ideal test case for the phylogenetic model, because they had a nearly contiguous distribution in Mesoamerica; all 35 or so Mayan languages were traceable to a single proto-Mayan language spoken before 2000 BC; and he suspected that careful comparative and historical analyses should help to account for the variation among the 35 present-day groups of Maya.
Vogt’s phylogenetic work had implications for Maya archaeology. Consider, for example, his hypothesis that each significant unit in a Maya social system, such as “the extended family living in a patio group, the patrilineage, or the patriclan” had “deified ancestral beings that were given offerings at some kind of ceremonial focus whether it be a small household shrine or a seventy-meter pyramid. If that is the case, then the multiple pyramid-temples in the ceremonial centers probably represented the ancestors of the various important lineages.” He linked this hypothesis to a second—that the mountains of the modern Tzotzil and the pyramids of the ancient Maya “function as conceptual and structural equivalents,” both serving as dwelling places for the ancestors. It is indeed the case that many ancient Maya pyramids were considered to be mountains where ancestors dwelled—some pyramids, in fact, even housed the tomb of a ruler. It is even possible that these artificial mountains were the conceptual and structural equivalents of the natural peaks where today’s Zinacantecos believe their ancestors (or fathers-mothers) dwell. Judging from the frequency with which people think about these ancestors and perform rituals for them, they are the most important Zinacanteco beings. They are remote ancestors of the living Zinacantecos, and according to them “they were ordered to take up residence inside the mountains by the Four-Corner Gods in the mythological past” (1990, p. 19).
For the most part, Vogt’s Chiapas Project was focused on what his professor, Robert Redfield, called “the little community.” Vogt, however, saw the need for getting a broader view of the region, and as a result he became a pioneer in the use of aerial photography to interpret settlement patterns, the spacing between houses and hamlets, the region’s sacred geography, the principles of Tzotzil cosmology, and Tzotzil worldview.
Vogt’s 1974 edited volume, Aerial Photography in Anthropological Field Research, is perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of this topic ever assembled by an ethnologist. His interest in geography was a legacy from his undergraduate days as a geography major at Chicago. When he first turned to aerial photographs, Vogt wondered whether cultural factors or environmental factors would be dominant in settlement choice and spacing. In the end, he discovered “that the determinants of settlement patterns in any given municipio [district] were an intricately interwoven set of ecological and cultural factors.”
Vogt’s aerial photos revealed that the crucial ecological constraint was the availability of water in the karstic highlands during the dry season; the more water available in the communal waterhole, the more compact the settlement. The critical cultural factors, on the other hand, revolved around Tzotzil kin groups (for example, a preference for living in patrilocal extended families, the building blocks for patrilineages). The aerial photos also provided a wealth of data on land plots and ownership. They further facilitated Vogt’s study of sacred geography, pinpointing the location of shrines on mountaintops and documenting their relationship to hamlets, caves, and cardinal and intercardinal directions. One could also use them to study ceremonial circuits, or pilgrimages, performed by lineages and waterhole groups.
While he was clearly a towering individual in American anthropology, Vogt never thought of himself as more than one-half of a team. The other team member was his wife of 62 and one-half years, Catherine (“Nan”) Vogt. They published together, did fieldwork together, attended all meetings of the National Academy of Sciences together, and produced four children: Shirley Naneen, b. March 6, 1945, now Countess Skee Teleki of Toronto; Evon Zartman (“Terry”) Vogt III, b. August 29, 1946, of San Francisco; Eric Edwards Vogt, b. October 22, 1948, of Belmont, Massachusetts; and Charles Anthony, b. July 27, 1953, of Quito, Ecuador. The Vogts claimed six grandchildren and four great-grandsons, and their names will forever be linked to Zinacantan.
Among Vogt’s many honors were his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1960, the National Academy of Sciences in 1979, and the American Philosophical Society in 1999. In the National Academy of Sciences he served as the chair of Section 51 (Anthropology) from 1982 to 1984, then as chair of Class V (Behavioral and Social Sciences) from 1987 to 1989.
Vogt was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto (1956-1957); a visiting scholar in the Soviet Union, as guest of the Institute of Ethnography of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, lecturing in Moscow, Leningrad, and Tashkent in 1968 and in Moscow, Leningrad, and the Republic of Georgia in 1989; and a councilor for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1974 to 1978. He organized two Burg Wartenstein Conferences in Austria: one in 1962 on “The Cultural Development of the Maya” and the other in 1980 on “Prehistoric Settlement Patterns,” a symposium to honor his longtime friend and Harvard colleague Gordon R. Willey. In 1978 Vogt was decorated as knight commander, Order of the Aztec Eagle, by the Mexican government for his outstanding study of the Tzotzil Maya. In 1985 he was a visiting scholar in Bulgaria at the Institutes of Ethnography and Folklore of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia, and a visiting scholar in Yugoslavia at the Serbian Academy of Sciences in Belgrade.
PROFESSIONAL QUALITIES OF THE MAN
What were the special qualities that enabled this man to leave Vogt Ranch in Ramah, New Mexico, study at Chicago, teach at Harvard, and have the enormous impact he has had on Middle American ethnology? Vogt possessed many of the necessary attributes, including tenacity; dedication to goals; the ability to complete arduous tasks; tremendous loyalty to family, informants, students, and colleagues; an exceptional ability to collaborate with large groups; and the wisdom to see merit in diverse and divergent views and frameworks. I always valued Vogtie’s exceptional warmth, sense of humor, enthusiasm, unwavering support, and heartfelt advice. He was a marvelous listener, who always offered crucial insights to me and to countless former students throughout our careers. He stayed in touch with all of us by e-mail, discussing our work as well as his, literally until just a few days before his death. He was truly a special person and dedicated social scientist who will be missed by all of us.
Among Vogt’s most enduring accomplishments were (1) his controlled comparisons of Navaho, Zuni, and Hispanic groups in the Southwest United States (1947-1953); (2) his development of a theoretical framework to explain ritual behavior in terms of structure, process, and replication; (3) his application of the phylogenetic model to the cultural evolution of the Maya; (4) his long-term study of a Tzotzil Maya community (1957-1992); and (5) his commitment to documenting cultural origins and the persistence of cultural patterns, in spite of ongoing change and innovation. His longitudinal studies among the Tzotzil have provided a wealth of data and ideas that scholars will continue to mine for years.
SOME OF THE MATERIAL presented in this memoir was drawn from lengthy conversations I had over the years with Nan and Vogtie, and I thank them for telling me so much about their lives together.
AWARDS AND HONORS
More biographical material can be found in the following references.