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Finalists named for founding director of Virginia Tech Center for the Humanities

January 12, 2017

From left to right: Jay Rubenstein, Gary Taylor, and Sylvester Johnson

Finalists for the position of founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for the Humanities
From left to right: Jay Rubenstein, Gary Taylor, and Sylvester Johnson

A medieval historian who won a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, the celebrated lead editor of The New Oxford Shakespeare, and an award-winning scholar engaged in exploring the intersection of religion, race, and colonialism have all been named finalists for the position of founding director of the new Virginia Tech Center for the Humanities.

The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences is establishing the center as part of Virginia Tech’s renewed commitment to elevating the presence and profile of humanities disciplines across the university.

“In this search, we’re looking for a leader who can bring to Virginia Tech a compelling vision that encompasses the vital tradition of the humanities and highlights their continued relevance not just to academe but to society as well,” said Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “We’re delighted to have such distinguished scholars eager to embrace this meaningful challenge.”

Nearly 1,500 undergraduates are majoring or minoring in one of the college’s humanities programs, which include the departments of English, Foreign Languages and Literatures, History, Philosophy, and Religion and Culture. Payscale has consistently ranked Virginia Tech in the top 20 nationally for Best Value College for Humanities Majors. In 2016, Virginia Tech was the only university in the country selected to host two prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities summer programs.

The new center will support faculty, students, and programs across the humanities. It will also complement other collaborative, cross-disciplinary research initiatives at the university, including the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment.

In addition to cultivating a hearty embrace of the humanities across campus, the director will oversee the college’s participation in several new digital publishing and digital humanities initiatives both within the university and nationally. The director will also administer programs that support individual faculty fellowships, departmental grants, and speakers, events, and colloquia in the humanities.

All members of the Virginia Tech community are welcome to attend the finalists’ open-forum presentations, in which they will address the future of the humanities at land-grant universities and the role a humanities center can play in supporting scholarship, education, and consequence, both on and off campus.

Jan. 17–18 – Jay Rubenstein

Jay Rubenstein is the Alvin and Sally Beaman Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, where he also serves as associate director of the University of Tennessee Humanities Center. Before relocating to Knoxville in 2006, Rubenstein was an assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico. In 2007, he received a MacArthur Fellowship for his work elucidating 12th-century texts that grapple with the meaning of the First Crusade and its profound consequences for the future of Europe. The author of several books, Rubenstein is now writing Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: Prophecy, History, and Crusade, which is slated for publication by Oxford University Press. He holds a doctorate in medieval European history from the University of California, Berkeley.

  • Open-Forum Presentation: Jan. 17, 3–5 p.m. (reception to follow) 
  • Location: Room F, Graduate Life Center

Jan. 26–27 – Gary Taylor

Gary Taylor, the author or editor of 26 books, is the George Matthew Edgar Professor of English and a Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University, where he became the founding director of the interdisciplinary History of Text Technologies program. Taylor served as general editor of the Oxford editions of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, which, upon its publication in 1986, helped sharpen scholarly interest in the Bard’s role at the intersection of literature and theater arts. He also edited the collected works of “the other Shakespeare,” Thomas Middleton, a volume that won the Modern Language Association’s biennial prize for a Distinguished Scholarly edition and the Emily Dietz Award for Outstanding Publication in Early Modern Studies. Taylor earned his doctorate in English from the University of Cambridge.

  • Open-Forum Presentation: Jan. 26, 3–5 p.m. (reception to follow) 
  • Location: Room F, Graduate Life Center

Jan. 30–31 – Sylvester Johnson

Sylvester Johnson is an associate professor of African-American studies and religious studies at Northwestern University. There he focuses his research on the intersection of religion, race, and colonialism. He also has a particular interest in exploring humanity in the age of intelligent machines. Johnson is co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions. His African American Religions, 1500–2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom was published by Cambridge University Press, and his Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity garnered the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book Award. He is now co-editing a volume on religion and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He holds a doctorate in contemporary religious thought from the Union Theological Seminary.

  • Open-Forum Presentation: Jan. 30, 3–5 p.m. (reception to follow) 
  • Location: Room F, Graduate Life Center

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