Trigger, Bruce G.

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Trigger, Bruce G.

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  • Trigger, B. G. (Bruce G.)

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Born in Preston, Ontario, now Cambridge, on June 18, 1937, Bruce Graham Trigger was schooled at St. Mary’s Collegiate Institute (1951) and the Stratford Collegiate Institute (1955). He earned his B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1959, and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1964. On December 7, 1968 he married Barbara Marian Welch, whom he had met at McGill University while she was in the midst of a campaign to permit women into the reading room of McGill University’s Faculty Club. Barbara Welch Trigger was employed as a Research Associate in McGill’s Department of Geography. The Triggers had two children: Isabel Marian and Rosalyn Theodora. Isabel earned a B.Sc. (Hon.) from McGill while Rosalyn received both her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Geography from McGill. Trigger also had two grandchildren, David and Madeleine.

Bruce Graham Trigger died on December 1, 2006 in Montreal, Quebec. His funeral was held at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul on December 4, 2006.


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One of the world’s foremost archaeologists, Trigger participated in several significant field work expeditions. He was the Chief of the archaeological Pennsylvania-Yale expedition to Egypt in 1962. He also participated in expeditions in Ontario during the 1950s, most notably at Sheek Island. He was Staff Archaeologist of the Oriental Institute’s Sudan Expedition, 1963-1964.

Trigger’s career as an academic commenced at Northwestern University, Illinois, where he was an Assistant Professor from 1963-1964. In 1964 he started teaching at McGill
University as an Assistant Professor, becoming an Associate Professor in 1967, and a Professor of Anthropology in 1969. He was also active in an administrative capacity at both the departmental and the university levels, occupying such positions as Chairman of Anthropology from 1970-1975, Academic Staff representative, and as a member of McGill’s Board of Governors from 1996-1998. Illness forced him to retire from McGill on June 1, 2006.

Trigger’s research interests were diverse, including the study of ancient civilizations, North American Ethnohistory, and the history of archaeology. As a social scientist Trigger enjoyed international renown. In particular, his studies of the Iroquoian people of Canada, as well as his contributions to Egyptology were extremely influential. It is notable that aboriginal people in Canada were very receptive to his research results. Much of Trigger’s later research focused on key issues in the social sciences and history, such as the development and principles surrounding organizations, which stemmed from his interest in the growth of the economic, political, and social inequality that existed in early societies. Trigger’s quest to understand the origin of inequality and power reveal his humanitarian principles and his commitment to creating a just society. He endeavored to pinpoint the origin of the authoritarian impulse in human society. As a natural extension of his beliefs, he was an ardent supporter of First Nations’ rights. In one lecture he recommended that all future anthropology should be controlled by Aboriginal people. Trigger was an individual of action as evidenced by his resignation from the board of the McCord Museum when members refused to join a First Nations’ organized boycott of an exhibition of native artifacts at the Calgary Olympics. In recognition for his contributions to scholarly knowledge of the First Nations, he was adopted as a member of the Huron Great Turtle Clan with the name Nyemea, meaning “one who knows how to do” in 1990.

Over the course of his influential fifty year career as an archaeologist and anthropologist, Trigger was honoured with numerous awards, distinctions, honorary degrees, and fellowships. Trigger received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal; the Cornplanter Medal for Iroquoi Research (1979); the Innis-Gérin Medal of the Royal Society of Canada; the Prix Victor-Barbeau (1991); the Prix Léon-Gérin (Prix du Québec) of which he was the first non-francophone recipient (1991); and the J.R. Wiseman Book Award from the Archaeological Institute of America (1991, 2006). He was also an honorary member of the Prehistoric Society of the United Kingdom. Honourary degrees and doctorates included a D. Sc. from University of New Brunswick (1987); a D. Litt from the University of Waterloo; an LL.D from the University of Western Ontario (1995); a Doctor of Laws from McMaster University (1999); and a Doctor of Laws from his alma mater, the University of Toronto. Research and teaching distinctions included the Woodrow Wilson Fellowships 1959, 1963; Killam Research Fellowships 1968, 1977; and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Leave Fellowship (1983). In recognition for his outstanding scholarly and pedagogical contributions, McGill University appointed him one of the first James McGill chairs. He also earned McGill University’s 2003 Faculty of Arts Award for Distinction in Research.

As a much sought after lecturer, Trigger traveled widely presenting on diverse topics pertaining to archaeology and anthropology. Noted lectures included the Fourth Gordon Childe Memorial Lecture at the University of London (1982); the Seagram Lectures, University of Toronto (1986); the Lansdowne Visitor, University of Victoria (1987); the Harry Hawthorn Distinguished Lecture (1988); a Distinguished Lecture in Archeology, American Anthropological Association (1990); and the Distinguished Visiting Professor, American University in Cairo (1992). Trigger also lectured on issues facing universities including the necessity of maintaining independence of enquiry and thought at the academic level.

Trigger published numerous books, articles, and reviews which have been translated into many languages. He also served on the editorial board of several journals. He edited Volume I of the prestigious Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. His classic works include The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660 (1976); Gordon Childe Revolutions in Archaeology (1980); Natives and Newcomers: Canada’s “Heroic Age” Reconsidered (1985), and A History of Archaeological Thought (1989). His contributions to his field were compiled in The Archaeology of Bruce Trigger, in which 22 scholars reflect on his approaches to archaeological data.

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