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John Sanford, News Service (650) 736-2151; e-mail:

John Bender to take helm of Stanford Humanities Center

During his more than 30-year career as a Stanford literature professor, John Bender has shown a keen interest in research that cuts across disciplines and explores the connections between them. Now, Bender is set to take his extensive interdisciplinary and administrative experience to the helm of the Humanities Center, where he begins Sept. 1 as its new director.

"We came to a consensus - indeed, a very strong consensus that John Bender was the person we could recommend for the position, and there were several reasons for this," said George Dekker, chair of a six-member search committee that interviewed nine candidates for the job. "First, he had far more nominations from faculty than anybody else. And a second thing is we felt that Bender's scholarly interests and administrative background made him an especially attractive candidate."

In addition to Dekker, who is associate dean of graduate policy and professor emeritus of English, the committee was composed of Gregory Freidin, chair of the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department; Charlie Junkerman, dean of the Continuing Studies Program; history Professor Nancy Kollmann; classics Professor Ian Morris; and art history Professor Wanda Corn.

"John has always been deeply dedicated to the humanities and worked tirelessly to make them central to this university's mission," said Corn, a former director of the center. "He knows every humanist on campus and is widely recognized across the country as a creative scholar in his field. He will bring fabulous energy and passion to this important position."

Humanities Center directors are appointed for three-year terms but may be re-appointed. Bender was appointed by Charles Kruger, vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy.

Dekker noted that Bender, who is the Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, has research interests that run a gamut from art history to literary theory to English literature of the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

"There's probably no other candidate whose interests have that kind of breadth," Dekker said. "But I would want to add that we have the greatest respect for the other people we interviewed. What perhaps finally made the difference was that John's interview was especially strong. He showed a kind of vision and familiarity with the workings of the center, and he had ideas about how it could be developed without sacrificing the core strengths."

Bender, 60, praised the work being done at the center.

"I think the program at the center is fantastic. The staff members are excellent and have helped to bring the center distinction," Bender said. "So I really view myself as building on a great tradition. This is the 20th year of the center, and I hope to make the next three worthy of the 20 that have gone before."

The Stanford Humanities Center was founded in 1980 to promote humanistic research and education at the university and across the nation. It offers one-year residential fellowships to Stanford faculty and graduate students, as well as to scholars from other institutions.

In addition, the center organizes lectures, colloquia and conferences, as well as workshops that bring faculty and graduate students together on a regular basis to advance ongoing research in subjects of interdisciplinary interest.

"The Humanities Center has had a series of wonderful directors people who in quite different ways have contributed to making it the premier humanities research center in the United States," Dekker said.

Past directors (not including those who held interim posts) have been, in chronological order: Ian Watt, professor emeritus of English, who died in 1999; Bliss Carnochan, professor emeritus of English; Corn; and Keith Baker, cognizant dean for the humanities and a professor of history.

Dekker lauded the work of the current interim director, history Professor Peter Stansky, who has been head of the center since the beginning of the academic year.

It has been a crucial year, Dekker said, because the center is preparing to move into its new headquarters at the site of the former Bowman Alumni House, which is in the process of undergoing a substantial makeover. "Peter has actually had to do the bulk of the managing," Dekker added.

The Humanities Center no longer will occupy the Mariposa and Rogers houses and also will have to give up, with a degree of sadness, the annex at Campus Drive East and Alvarado Row, Dekker said.

The future

Bender was eager to describe some of his plans for the center, which include organizing projects or events on humanistic topics that also are important to scholars in the natural sciences, social sciences and professional fields.

"I would like to have some events that focus on issues that can be shared with some other parts of the university," he said. "I have in mind things like consciousness, which might reach out to neuroscience, artificial intelligence and, obviously, all of the humanistic disciplines."

Bender said he is interested in organizing two conferences in the near future: Their working titles are "Gender and Knowledge" and "Technology, Globalization and Humanities."

Bender also said he wants to launch a Stanford humanities review on the web. The online publication would feature work by Stanford faculty and students, as well as text versions of some of the lectures organized by the center.

"It is vital to bring important, highly visible scholars and artists to the center as visiting fellows and as guest speakers," Bender said. "But I also would hope to find a role for the center in displaying Stanford's own formidable place in the world community of research in the humanities. The online Stanford Humanities Review would give wide access to some of our achievements here."

He described the upcoming move, which is set to take place in the late summer, as an "important opportunity" for the center.

"It will put everybody together under one roof," he said. "It will offer three seminar rooms and a large lecture/conference room. That's going to make a big difference to the flexibility of the program."

Interdisciplinary interests

Bender, who teaches in the departments of English and comparative literature, came to Stanford in 1967. He currently serves as associate dean for the humanities and as chair of the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages. His research interests center on the novel, especially in England and France, and its relations with social institutions, science, philosophy and the visual arts. He is second vice president of the American Society for 18th-Century Studies (he will be become president July 1, 2002) and is an elected member of the executive board of the International Society for 18th-Century Studies.

He is the author of Spenser and Literary Pictorialism (1972) and Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (1987), which won the American Society for 18th-Century Studies' Gottschalk Prize. He also has edited four books, including a scholarly edition of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones that was published in 1996, and he has written dozens of articles and reviews.

His essay "Matters of Fact: Virtual Witnessing and the Public in Hogarth's Narratives" is set to appear in the forthcoming Hogarth: Representing Nature's Machines.

Bender has taught courses at Stanford with five different professors and written articles and edited books with Anne Mellor, David Wellbery and Simon Stern. He currently is finishing a book with art history Professor Michael Marrinan titled The Culture of Diagram. The book is under contract with Stanford University Press.

Bender has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1982-83) and a Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching (1995).



By John Sanford

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