Remembering Dr. R. Clark Mallam

Photocopy of a newspaper article featuring Clark.

Dr. Richard “Clark” Mallam (1940-1986) was the founder of Luther College’s anthropology program (1969). Here we celebrate and highlight the many contributions and connections made by this beloved professor. Lori Stanley, Luther College Professor of Anthropology and former student of Clark’s, notes that even today people contact her with letters and e-mails to convey how much his writings and research meant to them. Despite his brief time here, evidence of his lasting influence can be found in community news, archaeological research, and the warm memories of friends and students.

Humor in the Trenches

Born in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska, Mallam grew up on the open plains. This gave him an appreciation for everyday people and a down-to-earth attitude which made him especially approachable. It also affected his ever-present humor, often described as “earthy.” According to former students, Clark enjoyed portraying himself as being “just a hick seed from Nebraska” which reflected his love of creating characters and self-deprecating humor. 

Journey from Education to Educator

Mallam’s educational experiences taught him to critically assess what others had said about the Native American cultures he studied. Because the American educational system exposed him to “distortion, inaccuracy, and misrepresentation” regarding these groups, he felt the desire to rectify these problems by educating others.

In 1969, Clark accepted a position at Luther College where he founded and expanded the new anthropology program. He created the Luther College Archaeological Research Center (LCARC), which soon housed the largest collection of northeastern Iowa Native American artifacts at the time, and he began to direct and teach anthropology classes. In these, he encouraged students to closely analyze their sources, evaluate evidence, and to draw their own conclusions.

Marching Bear Mound Group, image courtesy of the Mallam Slide Collection
Marching Bear Mound Group, image courtesy of the Mallam Slide Collection

After Clark joined Luther, he completed his Ph.D. and published his dissertation, The Iowa Effigy Mound Manifestations: An Interpretative Model. He continued to research effigy mounds in northeastern Iowa with his students for many years and used them as an extension of his classroom.

Educational Profile

  • Associate of Arts degree, Fairbury Junior College, Nebraska (1959)
  • Field Infantry Medic, Alaskan Command, (1959-1961)
  • B.S. in History, University of Nebraska (1963)
  • M.A. in Anthropology, Adams State College (1966)
  • M.Ph. in American Indian Education, University of Kansas (1973)
  • Ph.D. in American Indian Education, University of Kansas (1975) 

Clark the Mentor

Clark strongly influenced his students through one-on-one chats and engrossing classes. Students would go to his office, where Clark often “asked the hard questions,” causing students to rationally examine their ideas and choices. He could also skillfully connect what they were learning in class to their own experiences. In addition, Mallam went out of his way to place students with research opportunities beyond the Luther campus, occasionally even in other countries. This was an important service in a world without the Internet. 

Telling Stories

The cover of R. Clark Mallam's memoirs.
The cover of R. Clark Mallam's memoirs.

Mallam loved stories and was himself a storyteller. Even when he was young, Clark had such a deep appreciation for reading stories that it occasionally interfered with his chores. This was a passion he never outgrew, and it was ever present in his teaching. According to Professor Emeritus Harvey Klevar, Clark frequently made associations, established relationships, and explained confusing concepts using anecdotes, illustrative themes, and popular culture.  

Clark also said that he enjoyed writing for pleasure because he believed that good writing “takes human experience, the essence of life lived, and transforms it into tradition–the human justification for living life.” This led him to write several short stories, including the Curator, and produce a memoir, Indian Creek Memories, which was published after his death.

Always Teaching

Professor Lori Stanley remembers Clark as “always teaching.” She recalls that students from all majors flocked to Mallam’s classes because of his charisma and ability to make subjects come to life. Even outside of the classroom, Clark made an effort to engage students through conversation and his research by inviting them to assist him with fieldwork after classes, on the weekends, and during the summers. Because of his skill in captivating student attention and imagination, Clark could challenge students to think critically and share his love of knowledge and anthropology. 

Outreach

Just as Clark was dedicated to teaching his courses at Luther, he also dedicated himself to bringing education to the public and the Decorah community. Clark was committed to the idea that all people should be able to access the knowledge gained through anthropology, with the goal of enhancing appreciation for all cultures, past and present. He did this by giving lectures throughout the Midwest and by making information more accessible through newspaper articles, letters, and academic publications. 

By the river, image courtesy of Lori Stanley
By the river, image courtesy of Lori Stanley

Mallam by River

Clark found enjoyment in nature, especially during archaeological excavation. During digs, he restricted the use of Walkmans, or as he called them, “avoidance boxes,” because he wanted his students to imagine the past by communing with nature without distractions. As Clark described, “quality of life is achieved only through respect for the environment which enhances it,” and only by breaking through “the veneer of modern media” was that possible.

Remembering Mallam

I remember the time I accompanied a fellow student on a project in Clark's backyard. The goal was to attempt to heat up a chunk of copper and somehow make a tool out of that. My friend was not very successful at the project, but we had a good time. This was one of many occasions of socializing at Clark's house.

Former student Rebecca Berman’s remembrance of Clark

He was a most capable, insightful and convincing writer. I wish I had been blessed with his quick mind and talent! 

Former colleague Dale Henning on Mallam’s writing

I had been thinking about what to do with my life, and concluded that I should pursue an academic career in history. I had written Clark with questions about graduate school, and in June of that year, while at NOLS Alaska, I’d received a letter with his thoughts. At the end of that he said he’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor… Returning back to town [a few weeks later], I learned he had died a week earlier. He was forty-six years old, and I’ve been trying to live up to his example ever since.

— Former student Timothy Rawson’s remembrance of Clark

During my first fall at Luther in 1974, Clark led a troupe of students and myself into the Elwick tract at Effigy Mounds National Monument to map two new effigies. Following Clark's lead, we meandered through the fenceless woods, finally locating the mounds within about 20 minutes. Late in the day he led all of us back toward the cars by what seemed to me to be a slightly different route. Surprisingly, we came to the bank of the Yellow River, which we had not crossed on the way in. Clark's words were, "Who put this river here!"

— Former colleague David Benn on fieldwork

This portion of the exhibit was completed by Dan Hess ('13) and Kirk Lehmann ('13).

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