William F. Harrison - NIU - Foreign Languages & Literatures


William F. Harrison

William F. Harrison

PhD, University of New Mexico, Ibero-American Studies
BA, University of South Dakota, Spanish and Political Science


My interest in Ibero-American and Spanish cultures was piqued by visits to Mexico as a preteen in 1946 and 1947, and this interest has never wavered. The PhD program in Ibero-American Studies with a minor in anthropology at the University of New Mexico permitted me to explore all aspects of Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American language, literature, and culture, including African and Native American influences on these cultures. My interdisciplinary expertise was the principal reason I was hired by Northern Illinois University. My 36 years of teaching Spanish, Portuguese, and Swahili grammar, Latin American Colonial History, and Brazilian Culture at Northern Illinois University have allowed me to maintain my myriad research interests. A sabbatical permitted me to travel to Incahuasi, Peru on an Andes mountain top to record an Inca dialect still spoken today. At a special feast at dawn, my son and I were honored with goat heads and their intestines served in a bowl of goat's blood. (It needed salt!) The University further supported my interest in New World anthropology and archaeology with a three-year grant to study Mayan hieroglyphic writing, iconography, and modern Mayan languages and culture at the University of Texas and Tulane University. A highlight of my research in Native American culture was an invitation to present a paper in Nueva Granada, Spain, entitled "Religiones indígenas que sobrevivieron la Conquista" ("Native American Religions that Survived the Spanish Conquest") in celebration of the quincentennial of the discovery of America at the site where Columbus signed his contract with Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

In southeastern Montana in summer 2001, my interest in archaeology and paleontology led to the discovery, excavation, and dating of the first complete juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex ever found. A group of NIU professors, students (some of my own), alumni and volunteers from the Burpee Museum participated in the excavation and preparation of the skeleton. The dinosaur, nicknamed "Jane," was placed on permanent display June 29, 2005, in the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois, the sponsor of the expedition to Montana. Intermingled with Jane's bones was one of five foot-long neck vertebrae of a giant pterosaur (winged lizard) with an estimated wing span of 36 feet. It was likely that this genus of flying reptile (Quetzalcoatlus), common in rock along the Rio Grande, inspired the legend of the "Plumed Serpent," the principal deity of the Mayas (Kukulkan) and the Aztecs (Quetzalcoatl). Another Mesoamerican legend, Turtle Earth, a creation story documented on a Mayan stela dated to 620 CE is also of great interest to me. The story of Turtle Earth is very common among North- and Mesoamerican tribes even today. By studying ancient Chinese and Mongolian mythology, iconography, and epigraphy, I am investigating the possibility that the original legend came from Asia with the first hunters who crossed into the New World on the land bridge linking the two continents ca. 14,000 BC.

Recent Publications

"Using Pollen, Leaves, and Paleomagetism to Date a Juvenile T. rex in Upper Cretaceous Rock." Proceedings of the NIU-Burpee Museum Symbosium September 16-18, 2005: Origins, Systematics, and Paleobiology of Tyrannosauridae, September 16-18, 2005. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois UP (forthcoming).

Henderson, Michael D. and William F. Harrison. "Taphonomy and Environment of Deposition of a Small Tyrannosaurid Skeleton from Southeastern Montana." Proceedings of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research Symposium, June 10-11, 2005: 100 Years of Tyrannosaurus rex. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP (forthcoming).

Some Recent Presentations

"O ensino de português aos inglês-falantes: os problemas e as soluções" ("Teaching Portuguese to English Speakers: the Problems and the Solutions") presented by invitation to the Linguistics Department of the Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa, Estado da Paraíba, Brazil, 11 March 2003.

"Joana, a mulher do inferno com crise de identidade" ("Jane, the Belle from Hell, with an Identity Crisis") presented by invitation to the Geology Department of the Universidade Federal da Paraíba, João Pessoa, Estado de Paraíba, Brazil, 10 March 2003.

Websites of Interest

God save the Subjunctive!
Earliest Turtle Earth stories of Canada

E-mail William F. Harrison
Watson Hall 312
(815) 753-6460