An archive photo of the entrance of Machmer Hall
University News

Remembering Oriol Pi-Sunyer, Founding Member and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Anthropology

Oriol Pi-Sunyer, 93, of Amherst, a founding member and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Anthropology, died April 12 after a long illness.

Oriol Pi-Sunyer
Oriol Pi-Sunyer

Pi-Sunyer started his teaching career at the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, Canada, then moved to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland before settling in Amherst as a founding member of the UMass Amherst anthropology department in 1967. He remained with the department until his retirement in 2008.

A cultural anthropologist specializing in tourism and refugees and a pioneering figure in the creation of tourism studies, Pi-Sunyer turned his focus over the course of his career to the study of nationalism and collective identity in Catalonia. He made influential contributions to the study of ethnic nationalism while also continuing his interests in political economy. With his colleagues and close friends Brooke Thomas and Henry Geddes of UMass Amherst, and the late Mexican anthropologist Magalí Daltabuit, in the late 1980s he embarked on what became a 20-year longitudinal study of the Yucatan town of Tulum.

One of the things that distinguished Pi-Sunyer as a teacher, and for which his students remember him with great affection, was the care he put into the supervision of master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. In 2018, the Department of Anthropology created the Oriol Pi-Sunyer Dissertation Prize in his honor, in recognition of his dedication to mentoring.

Born on January 16, 1930 in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, to Carles Pi i Sunyer and Carmen Cuberta, he was born into a family of intellectuals, scientists, writers and politicians and was the youngest of five siblings: brother Josep, sisters Carolina and Nuria and a twin brother, Carles, who died shortly after birth. His father was trained as an engineer and became a noted political leader in Catalonia, including serving as mayor of the city of Barcelona from 1934-37 and Minister of Culture in the Catalan Govern de la Generalitat from 1937-1940. Pi-Sunyer lived in Barcelona until age eight, when he and his family became refugees from the Spanish Civil War. The family eventually settled in the United Kingdom, where he attended St. Lawrence College in Ramsgate and served in the British Army.

Pi-Sunyer earned an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Mexico City College and a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard University, where he met his first wife, Mary Jane Pi-Sunyer Richards, who was the mother of their sons. After they divorced, he later remarried, to Susan DiGiacomo.

Pi-Sunyer enjoyed cooking for family and friends, travel, sailing and spending time with family, especially his grandsons. He had an enduring love and respect for the country of Mexico, which took in him and many other Spanish Civil War refugees. He continued to do work in Mexico until his health no longer permitted it.

Pi-Sunyer is survived by his sons Carles Pi-Sunyer and David Pi-Sunyer, his daughter in-law Catherine Tornabene, and Carles and Catherine’s sons, Nathaniel Pi-Sunyer and Dominic Pi-Sunyer. He was predeceased by his wife, Susan.

Gifts in memory of Pi-Sunyer can be made to the “Oriol Pi-Sunyer Fund, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst” or to the University of Massachusetts Amherst Foundation, specifying the “Oriol Pi-Sunyer Fund, Department of Anthropology.” The department has established the fund to honor Pi-Sunyer’s dedication to mentorship of students. Gifts made to the Pi-Sunyer Fund will provide an annual prize for an outstanding dissertation in the anthropology of Europe or the Americas.