On July 18, 2006, Dr. J. Kathryn Josserand passed away suddenly in Palenque of a cerebral hemorrhage. Dr. Josserand is well known to Mesoamericanists, having played a leading role in the understanding of Classic Maya inscriptions and contemporary Mesoamerican languages. Her passing has shocked and saddened the Mesoamericanist community.
Kathryn was born and raised in Louisiana, where she obtained her bachelor's degree in 1964 at Louisiana State University and her Ph.D. from Tulane in 1983. In 1970, she married Nicholas A. Hopkins, who became her constant partner and collaborator over the length of her career. Kathryn and Nick lived in Mexico for many years, teaching classes in Mexico City and leading field projects throughout the country. In 1991, they moved to Tallahassee, Florida, where Kathryn worked as a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Florida State University.
At Florida State University, Kathryn trained undergraduate and graduate students in linguistic and cultural anthropology. She taught a variety of courses, including Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, Maya Art and Iconography, Linguistic Anthropology, Language and Culture, and Peoples of Mexico, among others. She chaired numerous undergraduate and graduate thesis committees and served on many others. She frequently took her students to Mexico with her to allow them to gain firsthand experience conducting anthropological fieldwork.
Kathryn was an accomplished researcher, having conducted numerous field projects throughout Mesomerica. As a doctoral student at Tulane, she carried out linguistic research in Pustunich, a small town in Yucatán. Her dissertation research centered on the Mixtec languages of Oaxaca. Later in her career, Kathryn began work on the Ch'olan languages of southern Mexico. She and Nick pioneered the use of discourse analysis techniques with both contemporary Ch'ol and Classic Maya texts. Grants from both FAMSI and the National Science Foundation supported their research throughout the years. Most recently, Kathryn had received a Fulbright for research she had planned to carry out in Guatemala during the spring semester of 2007.
In addition to their dedication to field research, both Kathryn and Nick led workshops on Maya hieroglyphic writing around the world. For many years, they conducted the introductory workshop on Maya inscriptions at the Maya Meetings, held annually in Austin, Texas. Many of the new generation of Mayanists owe their understanding of the basics of this writing system to their work and attention. Kathryn and Nick also held similar workshops on the Ch'ol language and grammar, helping to develop a working knowledge of one of the contemporary Maya languages most closely associated with the language of the Classic Maya. They also founded Jaguar Tours, leading tours to various Maya sites and passing on their knowledge of the ancient and modern Maya to groups interested in this ancient civilization.
Kathryn's work with the Ch'ol populations of Chiapas and their most recent migration into southern Campeche led her to spend time with friends throughout southern Mexico. It was during her most recent trip to Palenque with Nick and three students she was introducing to fieldwork that she passed away. She was 63 years of age. Memorial services are planned for Alexandria-Pineville, Louisiana, and Tallahassee, Florida.