2022—Dame Alison Richard

Photo of Dame Alison Richard
Senior research scientist in the Department of Anthropology and the Franklin Muzzy Crosby Professor Emerita of the Human Environment at Yale University

Professor Dame Alison Richard is a senior research scientist in the Department of Anthropology and the Franklin Muzzy Crosby Professor Emerita of the Human Environment at Yale University. She received her undergraduate degree in anthropology at Cambridge University and her doctorate from the University of London. She joined Yale University as a faculty member in anthropology in 1972, and served as director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History from 1991-1994, and as university provost from 1994 until 2002. Professor Richard was vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 2003 to 2010, a position carrying the responsibilities of university president. In recognition of her contributions to higher education, she was appointed a DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire) in 2010.

Professor Richard is widely known for her research and writings on the evolution of complex social systems among primates. Her work has taken her to Central America, northern Pakistan and, in particular, to the forests of Madagascar. A biological anthropologist, Richard specialized in the demography, ecology, and behavior of the Sifaka lemur (Propithecus verreauxi) -- a charismatic primate that lives in the spiny forests of southern Madagascar. She has published over 65 peer-reviewed publications and four books.  Two of her books, Behavioral Variation: Case Study of a Malagasy Lemur (1978) and Primates in Nature (1985) established her as a leader in her field. Today, Primates in Nature serves as the ‘gold standard’ for introducing students to the fascinating lives and evolutionary history of primates. Her current book project, Madagascar: Journeys Through Time, integrates personal reflections from working in Madagascar with research on the geology, evolution, archeology, and cultural anthropology of the island.

In addition to her research, Dame Richard helped found the Bezà Mahfaly Special Reserve in Southwestern Madagascar in 1975. Established in partnership with local communities, the University of Antananarivo, and Washington University, this 4,600 hectare reserve protects endangered forests and wildlife, and serves as a center for research, training, and education for Malagasy and international students. Alarmed by the rapid rates of deforestation, Professor Richard worked with community partners to design this nature reserve that would both protect species and provide useful resources to the surrounding villages, including economic and educational opportunities.

Dame Alison Richard is a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Liz Claiborne & Art Ortenberg Foundation. She chairs the advisory board of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the leadership council of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and serves on the advisory board of the Arcadia Fund. She has received numerous honorary doctorates, and was appointed Officier de l’Ordre National in Madagascar in 2005. This is the highest order of honors bestowed by Madagascar.