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Professor Cynthia Brantley, 1943-2018

The Department of History mourns the passing of Dr. Cynthia Brantley, Emerita professor of African history and friend to many at the university.

Professor Brantley was the first female professor and first Africanist historian in the department. As a trailblazer, she wore many hats when she arrived at Davis in 1972. She designed and taught the first undergraduate course on American women’s history, which regularly attracted 100 students or more. She used her own resources to create a course reading list because there were no textbooks available at the time. The introduction of women’s history set the stage for the department’s Women’s and Gender History (originally Cross-Cultural Women’s History) research cluster and graduate minor ( As one of the few women faculty on campus, Professor Brantley served on dozens of committees when she arrived, and her service to the university resulted in the creation of the Women’s Resource Center (

 Professor Brantley’s contributions to African history are equally impressive. Among her many publications are two influential monographs, The Giriama and Colonial Resistance in Kenya, 1800-1920 (UC Press, 1981) and Feeding Families: African Realities and British Ideas of Nutrition and Development in Early Colonial Africa (Heinemann, 2002). Professor Brantley launched the African history program at UC Davis, designing the first undergraduate courses in the field and mentoring the inaugural cohort of African history graduate students.

A respected scholar, generous colleague, and devoted mentor, Cynthia Brantley will be missed enormously.

Cynthia Brantley is survived by her partner of 36 years, Nancy Peden, her sister Betty Sue Norton (Donald), nephews and great-nephews and nieces. A celebration of Professor Brantley’s life will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Stonegate Country Club, 919 Lake Blvd. in Davis.

Donations in Cynthia Brantley’s memory may be given to the University of San Francisco Memory and Aging Center, the Davis Community Meals & Housing H Street Shelter, or a charity of your choice.

For a full obituary, see the Davis Enterprise: