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19 June 2023

Dean emeritus and CU legend František Vrhel dies at 80

Remembering a hugely influential colleague

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the death of prominent Czech ethnologist and legend in humanities, a linguist, Ibero-Americanist, translator, and dean emeritus of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University Associate Professor František Vrhel. The former dean passed away at the age of 80 on 16 June 2023 in Klatovy after a short illness. The associate professor was a leading domestic specialist in ethnolinguistics and theoretical orientations in ethnological and anthropological sciences, especially those based on linguistic methods.

Vrhel was also, in the best sense of the word, one of the most prominent and even eccentric personalities associated with the Faculty of Arts of Charles University (mainly, but not only) in the reformist 1990s and the noughties of the 21st century.

Throughout his long and immensely productive life, Doc. Vrhel was professionally and emotionally connected with our faculty; after graduating here in 1967 with a degree in Romance Philology and Russian Studies and obtaining the PhD and CSc degrees, he began to work here, first from 1968 as an assistant professor at the Centre for Ibero-American Studies, and from 1978 as a researcher at the then Department of Ethnography and Folklore Studies. From 1987 to the present, he was an associate professor; he habilitated with his innovative and influential work The Nature of Ethnolinguistics.

František Vrhel's personality at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University is inseparably linked with the liberal and emancipatory spirit of the 1990s; in 1989 he became the head of the Department of Ethnography and Folklore Studies, which he transformed from a relatively narrowly focused department focused on traditional ethnography into a dynamic and highly internationalised academic space. To this end, he synergistically used both his extensive international contacts abroad, especially in the Ibero-American area and the US, and his appointment as Vice-Dean for International Relations.

After the independence of the Centre for Ibero-American Studies in 1991, he modernized the Ethnography Department by transforming it into the Department of Ethnology; in 1993 it acquired the status of the Institute of Ethnology; he served as its head until 2014. František Vrhel's vision was above all to expand the geographical and theoretical scope of ethnological studies; he understood the field as areal-oriented in the synergistic trinity of the approaches of global social and cultural anthropology, European ethnology, and comparative folklore studies.

František Vrhel's tenure as Dean of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University was equally significant; he served in this capacity from 1994-2000. The immense breadth of František Vrhel's academic work and influence on domestic and (Central) European ethnology, linguistics and other disciplines can unfortunately only be hinted at at this point; in his extensive publishing, scientific, professional and teaching activities he drew on his many research stays abroad (for example in the USA, Mexico, Peru, Spain or Cuba) as well as his incredible knowledge of the international literature in many international languages. It is also worth mentioning his considerable translation and editorial activity, especially related to the work of Jorge Luis Borges.

His vast life's work across several disciplines will be presented in an extensive collection of his life's work, prepared by his colleagues for František Vrhel's 80th birthday and published this year by Karolinum Press.

Associate Prof. Petr Janeček

Translated from Czech with minor modifications

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