‘A cornucopia of riches’ brought to life with UMRA grant support

Joanne Eicher’s captivating new book, Global Trade and Cultural Authentication, is the capstone of a stellar career launched by serendipity. Published with support from UMRA’s Professional Development Grants for Retirees (PDGR) program, the book is about the artistry and history of the Kalabari people of Nigeria.

Eicher was doing research at the University of Nigeria in 1966 when a colleague invited her to visit his home in the Niger River Delta. She became fascinated by what she saw in the dress of the Kalabari—beauty that reflected their sensibilities, and patterns that hinted at their historic connections to other parts of the world. That fascination furthered Eicher’s rich career focused on dress, fashion, and culture.

Her book includes much of her own published work plus contributions from experts around the world, including eight former U of M students. According to one reviewer, the result is a “finely honed collection” and “a cornucopia of riches.” 

Global Trade and Cultural Authentication was published in August by the University of Indiana Press, the premier publisher of African cultural books. A 2021 PRGR grant paid to include 80 color photos from Eicher that were central to her story of the Kalabari people. Earlier PDGR grants paid for transferring her African photo collection to the U of M Libraries UMedia digital library (2015), editorial and administrative work in organizing the book (2016), and travel to a Kalabari festival in Baltimore to interview key people for her concluding chapter (2018).

“I am so appreciative of the UMRA support that I got for this book,” Eicher said. “Humanities have never had an easy time [with] grants. Being retired and getting funds to work on this book was such a boon.”

Eicher is regents professor emerita in the College of Design and a long-time UMRA member.

—Will Craig



The election of UMRA officers and new board members for 2024–25 will be conducted via an online poll from May 13 to 19, with the results to be announced at our annual meeting on May 21. Look for the ballot in your email inbox on May 13. Diane Young has been nominated to be president-elect.