Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures Announces Change in Leadership

Debjani Ganguly and Jack Chen
Professor of Chinese literature and East Asian studies, Jack Chen (right), will take over as director of the College's Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures when current director Debjani Ganguly (left) steps down in August.
Photo credits: Debjani Ganguly (contributed photo); Jack Chen (photo by Molly Angevine)

This month, the Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ initiative to advance scholarship in the humanities and to encourage cross-disciplinary research partnerships, announced that professor of Chinese literature and East Asian studies Jack Chen will take over the role as the Institute’s new director. He will replace English professor Debjani Ganguly, who will step down in August.


Founded in 2011, to revitalize the study of the humanities at UVA, to inspire innovations in teaching and scholarship through an international exchange of ideas, and to advance the idea that the study of the humanities in the twenty-first century ought to be global in its orientation, the IHGC hosts a range of public and academic events and cross-disciplinary research initiatives aimed at generating innovative thinking in the humanities, building partnerships with institutions of higher learning nationally and internationally, and offering unique educational opportunities to both graduate students and undergraduates.


Since taking on the role as leader of the IHGC in 2016, Ganguly, an internationally renowned scholar of world literature and postcolonial studies and former director of Australian National University’sHumanities Research Centre, has spearheaded the development of the Institute’s Mellon Global South Initiative, a program that provided advanced research funding and developed new courses focused on the interconnected histories and cultures of regions like Africa, Latin America, and South and East Asia. The Initiative, which oversaw the work of 45 faculty fellows, ten new tenure track faculty and eight experimental labs, has led to substantial gains in the University’s international stature in global humanities. The Mellon-funded initiative nurtured several areas of study including environmental humanities, pre-modern cultural and religious histories,transnational cinema and media, art and performance cultures, Asian cosmopolitanisms, African urbanism comparative indigenous studies, comparative political philosophy, global and world literatures and oceanic studies.


Through the work of the Institute, Ganguly has also expanded the collaborative relationships with academic departments across the College and with the Scholars’ Lab, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, the School of Architecture, the School of Computer Science, the School of Medicine and the University’s art institutions. New courses and new faculty hires made possible by the work of the IHGC have also been instrumental in the success of the College’s innovative new curriculum that emphasizes open inquiry and reflection, shared intellectual experiences and synthesis, and connection across disciplines and fields of knowledge.


“Debjani’s contributions to the IHGC and the College overall will have a lasting, positive impact,” said Ian Baucom, UVA provost and former dean of Arts & Sciences. “Her vision of the growing importance of interdisciplinary research and commitment to expanding the possibilities of scholarship in the humanities are central to the continued power and relevance of a liberal arts education.”


As the Institute’s new director, Chen, a faculty member with the College’s Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at UVA and a scholar of comparative literature, philology, the digital humanities, and area studies, will continue to advance the IHGC’s role and relevance as a laboratory for innovative and public-facing humanistic scholarship; an intellectual commons for cross-disciplinary collaboration; and a stage for the celebration of art, music, performance, and literature. He envisions building on the connections established by the Global South Initiative to forge new networks with institutions and universities in the democratic nations of the Global East like Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. Chen is also interested in expanding the Institute’s work in promoting the arts as an essential ingredient in civic life and in developing programs that advance literacy at both the local and global levels.


“I am concerned about the future of the humanities, and I know this is a concern shared by everyone in the academic community, from our undergraduates to our university leadership,” Chen said. “There is serious work that needs to be done in terms of rethinking the humanities, but UVA is uniquely positioned with its longstanding investments in democratic culture, global understanding and humanistic inquiry to answer this challenge.”


Chen added, “I’m humbled and honored to be appointed director of the IHGC. I’m also deeply grateful to Debjani for her leadership in this role, her inspiring vision, and most of all, for her friendship.”


Chen has been an integral part of the IHGC community of scholars since he was hired by the College in 2016. He worked closely with Ganguly to secure a grant from the University’s Strategic Investment Fund of $466,000 to establish the IHGC Humanities Informatics Lab in 2017 drawing on the University’s investment in the digital humanities to bring together computer scientists and humanists who study the relationship between culture and technology. The Lab has fostered projects in critical data studies, human-machine intelligence, and surveillance cultures.


“Jack specializes in literary and intellectual traditions of classical China, as well as a wide range of issues in literary and cultural theory,” Ganguly said. “He is a natural collaborator who has worked brilliantly over these years to bring together scholars and students across numerous disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, with exciting results. His leadership will bring a compelling new voice to the IHGC in the coming years.”


"Jack Chen brings a tremendous sense of energy, creativity and curiosity to the vital questions facing the humanities now," said Sarah Betzer, associate dean for arts and humanities at UVA. "I am deeply grateful to Debjani Ganguly for having seeded new networks of research collaboration across the College and around the globe, and I am excited by the promise of the IHGC’s next chapter as we conceive of the humanities collaboratively and across paradigms and as the work of the Institute continues to take shape from such rich ground."