Biographical / Historical
Priscilla Copeland Reining was a social anthropologist and Africanist who worked for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) from 1974 to 1989. Her area of specialty was sub-Saharan Africa, specializing in desertification, land tenure, land use, kinship, population, fertility, and HIV/AIDS. During the 1970s, she pioneered the use of satellite imagery in conjunction with ethnographic data. She is also known for her ground-breaking research in the late 1980s that showed that uncircumcised men were more susceptible to contracting HIV/AIDS than circumcised men.
Reining was born on March 11, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. She studied anthropology at University of Chicago, where she earned both her A.B. (1945) and Ph.D. (1967) in anthropology. During her graduate studies, she studied peer group relations among the Ojibwa of the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota (1947, 1950-51). Her husband, Conrad Reining, accompanied her to the field, an experience that inspired him to also become an anthropologist.
In 1951-53 and 1954-55, Reining conducted fieldwork among the Haya of Bukoba District, Tanganyika (now known as Tanzania) as a Fellow of the East African Institute of Social Research. While research for her dissertation focused on the agrarian system of the Haya, Reining also conducted fertility surveys for the East African Medical Survey, studying the relationship between STDs and fertility in Buhaya and Buganda. During the 1980s, Reining became interested in AIDS when she observed that the Haya were dying from the disease at a much higher rate than neighboring groups. When she learned of a possible link between circumcision and the spread of HIV, she drew a map of circumcision practice among the ethnic groups of Africa and found that uncircumcised men were 86% more likely to contract HIV than circumcised men. These results were published in "The Relationship Between Male Circumcision and HIV Infection in African Populations" (1989), which she coauthored with John Bongaarts, Peter Way, and Francis Conant.
Beginning in the 1970s, Reining began exploring the use of satellite imagery in ethnographic research. In 1973, she used Landsat data to identify individual Mali villages, the first use of satellite data in anthropology (Morán 1990). That same year, as a consultant for USAID, she also used ERTS-1 imagery to estimate carrying capacity in Niger and Upper Volta (now known as Burkino Faso). She continued to apply satellite data in her research throughout her career, including in 1993, when she returned to Tanzania to study the environmental consequence of population growth and HIV/AIDS among the Haya.
In 1974, Reining joined the Office of International Science of AAAS as a research associate. She stayed on to become Project Director for the Cultural Factors in Population Programs and to direct a number of projects under the Committee on Arid Lands. She also served as Project Director of the Ethnography of Reproduction project, for which she conducted fieldwork in Kenya in 1976. In 1990, she left AAAS for an appointment as Courtesy Professor of African Studies at University of Florida.
Prior to working for AAAS, Reining worked at the Smithsonian Institution (1966, 1968-70), during which she was the coordinator for the Urgent Anthropology Program in the now defunct Center for the Study of Man. She also taught at University of Minnesota (1956-59), American University (1959-60), and Howard University (1960-64). In addition, she worked as a consultant for various organizations, including Department of Justice, Peace Corps, International Bank for Reconstruction & Development (IBRD), Food and Agriculture Organization, and Carrying Capacity Network.
Reining was also actively involved in various organizations. She served as Secretary of the AAAS Section H (Anthropology) and was a founding member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Task Force on AIDS. She was also a fellow of the African Studies Association, AAA, AAAS, East African Academy, Society for Applied Anthropology, and Washington Academy of Science. In 1990, she was honored with a Distinguished Service Award from AAA.
Reining died of lung cancer at the age of 84 on July 19, 2007.
PR Vita. Series 10. Biographical and Personal Files. Priscilla Reining Papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Morán, Emilio F. 2000. The Ecosystem Approach in Anthropology: From Concept to Practice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Page 359
Schudel, Matt. 2007. Anthropologist Broke Ground on AIDS, Satellite Mapping. Washington Post, July 29. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/28/AR2007072801190.html (accessed December 8, 2011).
Born March 11 in Chicago, Illinois
Marries Conrad C. Reining
Earns A.B. from University of Chicago
Conducts field research on the Ojibwa of Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.
Earns A.M. from University of Chicago
Field research on Haya of Tanzania
Earns Ph.D. from University of Chicago
Returns to Tanzania for IBRD consultancy work
Begins working at AAAS as a research associate in the Office of International Science
Field research on Kikuyu of Kenya for Ethnography of Reproduction
Courtesy Professor of African Studies at University of Florida
Receives Distinguished Service Award from AAA
Field research in Tanzania studying environmental consequences of population growth and HIV/AIDS among the Haya
Dies of lung cancer at the age of 84 on July 19