IHGC Hires International Humanities Leader as New Director

Debjani Ganguly, Professor of English and Director Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures
Debjani Ganguly, Professor of English and Director Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures

The Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures introduced its new director, Debjani Ganguly, at a recent town hall meeting dedicated to the IHGC’s vision for its role in advancing the humanities, the interpretive social sciences and interdisciplinary work at the University of Virginia.

Debjani Ganguly, Professor of English and Director Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures
Debjani Ganguly, Professor of English and Director Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures

An internationally eminent scholar of world literature who has explored the role of the humanities in examining the challenges of climate change, global terrorism and the information technology revolution, Ganguly discussed the Institute’s plans to start a series of Humanities Laboratories on Grounds. She also discussed her interest in building and expanding collaborative relationships with quantitative sciences and academic departments such as Classics and Religious Studies, as well as with the Scholars’ Lab, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, the School of Architecture, the School of Medicine, and the University’s art institutions.

“To be global as researchers and teachers today means a greater accountability to an ever expanding collective and a re-thinking of our research and teaching paradigms,” Ganguly said at Wednesday’s town hall meeting in the Colonnade Club.

At a time when the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is reasserting the importance of the humanities in the education of undergraduate students, the professor of English and postcolonial studies brings to the IHGC a successful record of teaching, research and collaboration with humanities institutes around the world as former director of the Australian National University’s Humanities Centre.

“As the College of Arts & Sciences prepares to introduce new curricular requirements emphasizing the transformative power of a liberal arts education, Debjani Ganguly is uniquely qualified to lead the IHGC in its efforts to enhance teaching and research in the enduring humanities disciplines while providing new connections with more distant disciplines such as medicine, the environmental sciences, and computational sciences,” Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences Ian Baucom said.

Founded four years ago, the IHGC supports a broad program of public and academic events, including workshops, conferences, seminars and reading groups that aim to generate innovative thinking in the humanities and to serve as laboratories for the creation of new courses. The Institute’s Global Humanities Initiative, in partnership with faculty around the world, has been assembling leading scholars to discuss the present state and future prospects of the humanities in a series of colloquia held around the globe.

The College is matching a recent grant of $3.47 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with $3.82 million of its own to establish the College as a leading center for the study and teaching of issues related to the Global South. The funding will allow the College to hire 10 faculty members whose research focuses on the connected histories and cultures of Africa, Latin America, South and East Asia and other world regions examined by Global South scholars. Under Ganguly’s leadership, the IHGC will create a faculty fellows and forum program as part of the Global South initiative, launching a series of Humanities Laboratories to help develop new humanities courses and research projects for the benefit of the broader College community.

“With these labs emerging, we want to make UVA one of the leaders in seriously thinking about some of the challenges of imagining Global South models that are at some tension with some of the more narrow models of development,” Ganguli said last week.

The Humanities Laboratories will serve as new spaces for collaborative and experimental research on cross-disciplinary topics in the humanities and interpretative social sciences. Francesca Fiorani, Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities, said the Laboratories will be led by teams of two or three faculty from different disciplines, fostering the vertical integration of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, librarians, curators, and technologists around research initiatives. At the same time, the Humanities Laboratories will be designed to develop horizontal links across multiple disciplines, including environmental humanities, medical humanities and digital humanities.  

The Labs may extend from one semester to up to two years and may include collaborations with institutions elsewhere, nationally and internationally.

“Ganguly’s hiring and the investment in the IHGC and the humanities comes at a pivotal time for the College,” Fiorani said. “These new Humanities Laboratories will incorporate undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, librarians and other curators interested in examining key global and historical questions.”

Ganguly began working at the Institute on a consulting basis in August 2015 and officially assumed her post in January 2016. In 2015 she served on the graduate seminar faculty of the Harvard Institute for World Literature, which appointed her to its advisory board for a three-year term beginning in 2014.

Under her directorship, the Australian National University’s Humanities Research Centre developed an international reputation as Australia’s leading center for humanities scholarship. The visiting scholars that it drew enhanced the global reputation of its fellowship and conference programs, and the Centre played a prominent role as a catalyst and coordinator of interdisciplinary research. In 2012, the Centre hosted the annual meeting and conference of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), for which Ganguly serves as a member of its advisory board.

It marked the first time in 15 years that the annual conference was held outside the United States or Western Europe, as leading humanists and public intellectuals conducting research on climate change participated in one of the world’s largest meetings of humanities scholars.

Recently, UVA’s IHGC became a member of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), expanding its opportunities for national and international collaborations and exchanges.

Ganguly received her Ph.D. in English Literature and Postcolonial Studies from the Australian National University in 2002 and is the author/editor of five books. Her 2005 book Caste, Colonialism and Counter-Modernity examines caste and untouchability in India from the 18th century to the present. Ganguly’s new book, This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form, is scheduled for publication this year. The book focuses on transnational works on global terror, warfare and genocide.