Conquergood, Lorne Dwight, 1949-2004
- Existence: 1949-2004
Lorne Dwight Conquergood was born on October 19, 1949, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Daniel and Dorothea Conquergood. He spent much of his childhood in Terre Haute, Ind., and earned a B.A. in Speech Communication and English from Indiana State University in 1972. Two years later, Conquergood earned his Master’s in Communication from the University of Utah. His thesis, titled “William Faulkner's Light in August as a Rhetorical Act,” approaches Faulkner's novel from a standpoint of language “as a socially involved communicative event” and seeks to “demonstrate the novel's dynamic engagement with its social matrix” (Box 19, Folder 2). Conquergood received his Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University in 1977 and served as an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at The State University of New York in Binghamton for a year before returning to Northwestern to teach in 1983.
Conquergood served as a tenured professor in Northwestern's Department of Performance Studies from 1983 until his death. He was named department chair in 1993 and held this post for six years. He also served as the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Performance Studies and as the director of Northwestern's Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts from 1990 to 1995 (Box 3, Folder 8). He also advised more than 40 Ph.D. students in his time at Northwestern.
Conquergood was also a popular professor amongst his students. Northwestern's Associated Student Government named him to the annual Faculty Honor Roll 13 times, and he was named the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence by the school in 1997. Conquergood also won the award for Illinois Professor of the Year from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education in 1993.
In his research, Conquergood tended to focus on groups that had been marginalized in society. He began his field work with Hmong refugees at Camp Ban Vinai in Northern Thailand in 1981. Conquergood was especially interested in the performative aspects of Hmong culture. His conversations with Hmong healer Paja Thao led to Conquergood's widely circulated 1986 essay “I Am a Shaman: A Hmong Life Story with Ethnographic Commentary” (Box 13, Folder 3). Conquergood also became involved with the International Rescue Committee in Thailand, using his knowledge of Hmong culture and folklore to help design a form of “health theater” to educate refugees about proper sanitation. Back in Chicago, he helped new Hmong immigrants find housing and employment, and he served as their advocate in court cases and other dealings. Conquergood also worked with Palestinian refugees at the Jabaliya camp on the Gaza Strip in the mid-1980s (Box 12, Folders 8-11).
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Conquergood did extensive field research in the North Side Chicago neighborhood of Albany Park, where he lived for a while. His interactions with his Albany Park neighbors, a lower-class community mostly of recent immigrants, led to his published report “Life in Big Red: Struggles and Accommodations in a Chicago Polyethnic Tenement” (Box 21, Folder 3). His time in Albany Park also began an affiliation with the Latin Kings street gang. Conquergood studied the rituals and structure of gang life in Chicago, and he tried to present a more complex picture of these groups than the media portrayed. His 1990 documentary, The Heart Broken in Half, was produced from his field work with Chicago gangs and won the Certificate of Merit at the Chicago International Film Festival and was shown on PBS (Box 16, Folder 10). Conquergood also served as a friend and mentor for some of the gang members, and he testified on their behalf in court cases.
Later in life, Conquergood began researching the purpose, rituals and societal implications of the death penalty in America. His 2002 paper, “Lethal Theatre: Performance, Punishment, and the Death Penalty,” was published in the Johns Hopkins Press Theatre Journal. It argued that the criminological function of capital punishment could not be assessed without the inclusion of its performance aspects as a “theater of death” (Box 21, Folder 13).
Conquergood was diagnosed with colon cancer in the fall of 2002. He stopped teaching classes in December 2003 as he underwent treatment but continued to assist his Ph.D. students. He died on November 13, 2004 at Rush North Shore Hospice in Skokie, Ill.
Conquergood's colleagues paid tribute to him at the Performance Studies International Conference in 2005 (Box 3, Folder 4). Patrick Anderson, a former student, said his death was “a reminder that people who take the compassion and politics of teaching and research so seriously are few and far between; it is a reminder that our work extends so far beyond ourselves, whether we notice or like it or not; it is a reminder that we all still have a lot of work to do.”