History Professor Caroline Winterer named director of Stanford Humanities Center

Winterer, a scholar of the early Americas with a joint appointment in Classics, will lead the Stanford Humanities Center starting next fall.

L.A. Cicero

Stanford history Professor Caroline Winterer has been named the new director of the Stanford Humanities Center.

Stanford history Professor Caroline Winterer will begin a three-year term as director of the Stanford Humanities Center on Sept. 1, 2013.

Stanford's vice provost and dean of research, Ann Arvin, and Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, announced Winterer's appointment this week.

A current Humanities Center Advisory Board member and former Center fellow, Winterer's research interests span American intellectual and cultural history during the pre-Civil War era. Winterer is the author of three books and numerous articles, and is the recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Winterer received her doctorate in history at the University of Michigan in 1996. Her publications include The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750-1900 (2007) and The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910 (2002), as well as articles in the Journal of American History, the William and Mary Quarterly, the American Quarterly, the Journal of the Early Republic and Modern Intellectual History.

As a historian, Winterer – who has a courtesy appointment in Classics – said she is particularly interested in "how people think about their world and how people's ideas circulate across cultures." Although her research centers on early America (around 1500-1800), she also works on European and Spanish American history because "ideas don't stop at political borders."

Her current book project, to be published by Yale University Press, explores the ways in which "the particular conditions of the Americas put pressure on the central ideas of the Enlightenment: nature, reason, society, government, religion," Winterer said.

In addition to her publications, Winterer recently curated two exhibits of rare books and artifacts that explore how early Americans understood the classical world. Ancient Rome & America exhibited at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in 2010 and The American Enlightenment was on display in the Green Library at Stanford in 2011.

Over the last five years, Winterer has been working closely with Mapping the Republic of Letters, a pioneering interdisciplinary digital humanities initiative at Stanford. Her part of the project has produced digital visualizations of Benjamin Franklin's vast network of correspondence.  Winterer said that digital humanities investigations can offer scholars "new ways to think about our work by giving us new questions rather than pat answers."

Before taking the helm of the Center, Winterer will spend part of the summer sharing her passion for history with high school students in the Stanford Summer Humanities Institute (SHI). 

Launched last year, the three-week-long course offers high school students an opportunity to experience university-level humanities scholarship.  "There's a real hunger in multiple areas of society for humanistic ways to approach the great questions of human existence," she said, adding, "Young people are one of those largely untapped constituencies."

Saller said that as director of the Stanford Humanities Center, Winterer will be an "excellent facilitator of programs and conversations among our community of humanities scholars" because her "breadth of historical knowledge and interests places her right at the center of humanistic studies."

Echoing Saller's sentiments, Debra Satz, the senior associate dean for the humanities, described Winterer as an interdisciplinary scholar "equally at home in classical Athens and in Jefferson's Monticello" who is also a "renowned teacher with a capacious view of the humanities."

Winterer, who joined Stanford's History Department in 2004, said she was "deeply honored" to have been selected to direct the Center, which she said is "an exceptional resource for humanistic scholarship, not just on the Stanford campus but in the nation."

Aron Rodrigue, the Charles Michael Professor in Jewish History and Culture, has served as the Humanities Center director since 2008. During his term Rodrigue strengthened Stanford's global connections in the humanities and social sciences by establishing the International Visitors program, which brings scholars from around the world to study and collaborate with the Stanford community.

"Aron's international efforts and the expansion of the Humanities Center Fellowship programs as a whole have allowed the center to serve more scholars then ever before," said Arvin, citing Rodrigue as "a true ambassador for the humanities."

Arvin noted that Winterer will take over the directorship of a "thriving center," and will bring her own "exciting vision of how its programs can enhance humanities research at Stanford and beyond."

Debra Satz credited Rodrigue with strengthening the core of the Humanities Center's mission during his tenure, adding that his efforts brought scholars from "around the world to Stanford to share their perspectives on the world's diverse culture and history."

Rodrigue expressed delight at the choice of his colleague as the next director: "Caroline Winterer is a splendid choice, a very talented humanist and historian and a wonderful colleague.  The Humanities Center will flourish under her leadership. I could not be more pleased."

Winterer commended Rodrigue for building the international program, which has "flourished under his leadership." 

The largest university-based humanities research center in the United States, the center plays a critical role, said Winterer, in supporting "uncompromising excellence in the humanities through its fellowship and workshop programs" and in contributing to a "rich humanistic conversation among all the disciplines and schools on campus and in the community."

To that end, Winterer said the time is ripe to initiate "new kinds of conversations with the Medical School, the Law School and Stanford Arts" because, "like them, the humanities are actively engaged with the timeless questions of what it means to be human, what our responsibilities are to ourselves and to society."

The director of the Humanities Center holds the Anthony P. Meier Family Professorship.