2012 Annual Report, U.Va. Office of the President

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Renewing the faculty

Leading the Way to Change: The Humanities

For Michael Levenson, the William B. Christian Professor of English, the relevance and importance of the humanities couldn’t be more obvious. At a time when human experience seems increasingly digitized and fragmented, Levenson sees in the humanities an opportunity to strengthen human connections across disciplines and cultures. Leaving behind the image of the cloistered humanist, he enthusiastically embraces a more active, inclusive, and socially engaged vision.

The Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures is the vehicle Levenson has created to realize this vision. The institute has mobilized humanists around the University with funding from the Buckner W. Clay Endowment for the Humanities to support innovative programs that enrich the environment for the humanities at U.Va. and in surrounding communities.

Levenson is also working hard to expand the discussion to scholars around the world. Together with Brinda Bose of Delhi University, he is offering a postgraduate seminar on Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury. A dozen students in Charlottesville and a dozen more in Delhi follow the same course of readings, conduct research and make joint presentations, and meet for three teleconferencing sessions. “As a student of modernity, I’m fascinated by the convergence and divergence that these conversations reveal,” he said.

The institute is also playing a role in ensuring that the University retains its traditional strength in the humanities. With a Mellon Foundation grant and support from the College of Arts & Sciences, the institute is leading a process to appoint 10 new faculty members in the emerging fields of environmental humanities and comparative cultures of the premodern world.

“The institute is doing exciting work,” Levenson said. “It is giving us an opportunity to reimagine the University’s relationship to the world, positioning it as an engineer of collaborative innovation and institutional transformation, driven in large part by a culture of excellence in the humanities.”