Jonathan Hill | Anthropology | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Liberal Arts

Jonathan Hill

Professor Emeritus



Obituary for Dr. Jonathan D. Hill

Dr. Jonathan D. Hill, 69, died June 24 at home in Ladue, MO after a courageous, 23-month battle with Glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. Dr. Hill was an internationally-known anthropologist and ethnomusicologist who specialized in the cultures of indigenous peoples living in lowland South America.

A former chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Dr. Hill was a noted researcher, educator, writer, and editor. He will be remembered by his colleagues as a brilliant teacher and a person of great integrity who worked tirelessly to protect Amazonian peoples and assist them in preserving their cultures.

Dr. Hill was a longtime resident of Clayton and Ladue, MO. He was a dedicated member of the Ethical Society of St. Louis where he served on the music committee. A gifted classical pianist, he was a member of the St. Louis Piano Society.

Dr. Hill was fluent in several languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, and indigenous South American dialects. He was the author of several books including Keepers of the Sacred Chants: The Poetics of Ritual Power in an Amazonian Society, and Made-from-Bone: Trickster Myths, Music, and History from the Amazon.

He was a former editor of Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. He was, also, a contributor to numerous peer-reviewed articles and books during his long career. His Curripaco collection of recorded music is included in the Archives of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America at the University of Texas.

Dr. Hill was known, also, for his leadership in national and international anthropology organizations. Among the positions he held was president of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA).

Born in Charlotte, N.C. on Feb. 21, 1954, he was a son of the late Dorothy S. and Lee H. Hill Jr. He was raised in Pittsfield, Mass.; Niskayuna, NY, and Columbia, SC.

Dr. Hill was a member of the Class of 1972 at Kent School, Kent, Conn. He was a 1976 graduate of the University of Chicago. During two summers in the late 1970s, he studied piano performance at the Tanglewood Institute in Lenox, Mass.

In 1983, Dr. Hill earned a PhD in Anthropology from Indiana University at Bloomington. Starting in the 1970s, he conducted extensive anthropological research in Venezuela and Colombia. He began his teaching career as a faculty member at Indiana University and the University of Georgia at Athens before moving to Southern Illinois University.

At SIU, he taught in the anthropology department from 1986 to his retirement in 2020 rising to full professor and serving as Department Chair. At his death, although he had retired officially, he was still working with SIU graduate students and was writing several scholarly articles, and he was a visiting professor at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania.

He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. in 1988 and, from 1993 to 1994, a visiting associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In Nov. 2022, he was honored by colleagues at the annual meeting of the Anthropology Association with a panel of scholars who discussed his contributions to the field.

Dr. Hill was predeceased by his parents, of Lenox, Mass.; an aunt and uncle, Katherine and Evan Stephens of Thousand Oaks, CA; and a niece, Anna K. Hill of Norcross, GA.

He is survived by his wife, Sharon DeGreeff; two sons, Alexander C. Hill of Tampa, and Charles Millner Hill of St. Louis; a grandson, Collin L. Hill of Tampa; four stepchildren, Jason DeGreeff, Sarah O’Brien, and Joshua DeGreeff of St. Louis, and Anthony DeGreeff of Arizona; and three step-grandchildren, Seani, Mila, and Violet.

His survivors also include a brother, Lee H. Hill III (Patricia) of Reidsville, NC, and two sisters, Helen H. Kotzky (Brian) of Glen Cove, NY, and Amy Hill Hearth (Blair) of Monmouth County, NJ; three nieces, Barbara L. Hill of Temple Terrace, FL; Brigit M. Kotzky of Minneapolis, and Kim K. Oliva (Daniel) of Glen Head, N.Y.; and a grandnephew, Leon Oliva of Glen Head; a cousin, Martha S. Seeger (Daniel) of Topanga, CA, and their daughter, Cassandra Seeger Oulton (Rupert) of London UK.  

Dr. Hill leaves behind numerous friends, colleagues, and former students from around the world with whom he shared his passion for anthropology and music.

During the final weeks of his life, Dr. Hill was able to remain at home in the company of family, friends, and his beloved Boxer dog, Greta, due to the loving care provided by his wife Sharon and stepson Jason. 

The family would like to thank the staff at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, especially Dr. Omar Butt, for exceptional care.


2002   Comparative Arawakan Histories: Rethinking Language Family and Culture Area in Amazonia. Jonathan D. Hill and Fernando Santos-Granero, eds. Univ. of Illinois Press.

2001   The varieties of fertility cultism in Amazonia: a closer look at gender symbolism in Northwestern Amazonia.  In Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method , edited by T. Gregor and D. Tuzin, pp. 45-68.  Univ. of California Press.

2000   Colonial transformation in Venezuela.  Ethnohistory 47:747-754.

1999   Nationalisme, Chamanisme et Histoires Indigenes au Venezuela. Ethnologie Française XXIX(3): 387-396. Special issue on “Ethnicité, Nation, Musées en Situation Post-Coloniale.” Gerard Collomb, Editor.

1999   Indigenous peoples and the rise of independent nation-states in lowland South America.  In The Cambridge History of Native Peoples of the Americas: South America, Vol. III, Part 2, edited by F. Salomon and S. Schwartz, pp. 704-764.  Cambridge Univ. Press.

1998   Language contact and ritual hierarchy: toward a comparative regional understanding of eastern Tukanoan and Arawakan ethnohistory.  In Historia y Etnicidad en el Noroeste Amazonico, edited by A. Zucchi and S. Vidal, pp. 143-162.  Universidad de los Andes y Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas.

1998   Violent encounters: ethnogenesis and ethnocide in long-term contact situations.  In Studies in Culture Contact: Interaction, Culture Change, and Archaeology, edited by J. Cusick.  Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois Univ.

1996   History, Power, and Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Americas, 1492-1992, edited by J. Hill.  Univ. of Iowa Press.

1994   Alienated targets: military discourses and the disempowerment of indigenous Amazonian peoples in Venezuela.  Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 1:7-34.

1993   Keepers of the Sacred Chants: The Poetics of Ritual Power in an Amazonian Society.  Univ. of Arizona Press.