Timothy Powell, a senior lecturer in Penn’s Department of Religious Studies, died of cancer on Nov. 1 at age 58.
Throughout his life, Powell worked to preserve Native American cultures and language through the development of digital technologies. In February 2017, he founded Educational Partnerships with Indigenous Communities, an initiative of the Penn Language Center.
Powell also served as director of the initiative, which focused mainly on increasing the number and diversity of languages, specifically those of indigenous communities, offered at Penn.
"He plans to build on his current research, working in close partnership with community-based language teachers and elders in Indigenous communities," Penn Today wrote at the time.
In the Religious Studies Department, Powell focused on Native American religions and researched topics involving archives of literature, music, and artifacts in Native American tribes, Philly.com reported.
Powell received his doctorate in American literature and history from Brandeis University in 1995, and taught at the University of Georgia in Athens before moving to Philadelphia in 2006.
Powell also established the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at Philadelphia’s American Philosophical Society, where he worked with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, the Penobscot Nation in Maine, the Tuscarora Nation in New York State, and helped Ojibwe communities create their own digital archives.
Through his work there, Powell brought together an advisory board consisting of both scholars and tribal leaders in order to create guidelines for who should have access to the archives and when.
The completed guidelines stipulated that the archives would not be available to the public unless access was permitted by the tribal leaders, the first time an institution established these rules, cultural resources supervisor for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians T.J. Holland told Philly.com.
Powell was also on the advisory board for the Penn Center for Native American Studies and was a consulting scholar for the Penn Museum. Most of the grants for his work over the years came from the National Endowment for the Humanities, totaling over $1 million.
Powell is survived by his sons Jibreel and Gideon and his wife, Eve Troutt, who is the Christopher. H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History at Penn.