SMU mourns loss of Associate Dean Dennis Cordell

Dennis CordellDennis Dale Cordell devoted more than 35 years to Southern Methodist University and its students as associate dean for the University Curriculum/General Education Curriculum, professor of history, and adjunct professor of anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. He died Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 after a brief battle with cancer.

Funeral services will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25 at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, 4015 Normandy Avenue. A celebration of Dr. Cordell’s life and service will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 in SMU’s Perkins Chapel.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made in memory of Dennis Cordell to Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Southern Methodist University, PO Box 750402, Dallas TX 75275-0402; or to the First Unitarian Church of Dallas; or to the Peace Corps’ Health and HIV/AIDS Fund, under Special Funds at

Fluent in French and Arabic, Dr. Cordell joined the SMU history faculty 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. In 1997, while continuing to teach and publish, he became associate dean for general education in Dedman College. As associate dean, he spearheaded the University’s transition into its new University Curriculum, which took effect in Fall 2012.

In addition, Dr. Cordell oversaw the University Honors Program, the Hilltop and New Century Scholars Programs, and the English as a Second Language (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.

Concurrent with his service to SMU, Dr. Cordell served as adjunct professor of demography at l’Université de Montréal and taught at the University of Mali.

Dr. Cordell was the author of more than 65 articles and book chapters, as well as scores of book reviews in English and French. He wrote Dar al-Kuti and the Last Years of the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and (with Joel Gregory and Victor Piche) Hoe and Wage: A Social History of a Circular Migration System in West Africa, 1900-1975. He edited or co-edited five other volumes on Sub-Saharan African history and demography, including The Human Tradition in Modern Africa (2012). He also co-edited (with Jane Lenz Elder) The New Dallas: Immigrants, Community Institutions and Cultural Diversity: A Collection of Student Papers from SMU.

His work appeared in the 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 received awards and research grants from the National Science Foundation, American Philosophical Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among many others. He also served as president of the Canadian Association of African Studies and chair of the National Program Committee of the African Studies Association (USA). He is the only non-Canadian to be honored with a special award from the Canadian Association of African Studies-Association Canadienne des Études Africaines to recognize the promotion of bilingualism in French and English, and professional relations between CAAS-ACÉA and the African Studies Association.

His service to SMU included work with the University Curriculum, the President’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, Education Abroad, the University Athletic Committee, and the First-Year Experience Task Force, among many others. He also served on the departmental committee that created the University’s Ph.D. program in American history.

At the time of his death, Dr. Cordell was president of the Board of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas. He had also served as a member of the board of trustees of AIDS Arms.

Born in St. Louis on Jan. 1, 1947, Dr. Cordell was valedictorian of his class at Fox High School in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and graduated cum laude in history from Yale University in 1968. His lifelong love for the continent of Africa began when he joined the Peace Corps upon graduation, serving in Chad in health education and water projects.

After returning to the United States, Dr. Cordell earned his M.A. degree in history in 1972 and his Ph.D. in African history in 1977 from the University of Wisconsin. He also received a Maîtrise ès-Sciences (M.Sc.) in demography from l’Université de Montréal in 1987.

Dr. Cordell 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; and a nephew and three nieces.