Campus & Community

Five teachers honored with Harvard College Professorships

5 min read

Representing a broad range of disciplines, from computer science to Yiddish literature, five distinguished members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have been named Harvard College Professors.

This year’s honored professors are Kathleen M. Coleman, professor of Latin and associate of Winthrop House; James T. Kloppenberg, professor of history; Harry R. Lewis, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, dean of Harvard College,, and associate of Quincy House; James L. Watson, John King and Wilma Cannon Fairbank Professor of Chinese Society, and curator of Chinese ethnology in the Peabody Museum; and Ruth Roskies Wisse, Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature.

William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, expressed gratitude to the five professors for their service to the faculty and students. “We are indeed fortunate to have such outstanding teachers and scholars who have made particularly distinguished contributions to undergraduate teaching. I am very pleased to extend this recognition, and I thank them for their hard work and dedication.”

The Harvard College Professorships are five-year chairs endowed by a gift from John and Frances Loeb. They recognize dedication to undergraduate teaching across the board – in the Core and general education, teaching within one or more concentrations, and advising and mentoring of individual students – as well as outstanding contributions to graduate education and research. Recipients receive additional support for their research and scholarly activities.

“The energy and enthusiasm of the students, both undergraduate and graduate, make teaching here incomparably stimulating,” Kathleen M. Coleman said. Her teaching career has placed her in the classrooms of some of the most respected institutions in the world, including the University of Cape Town and Trinity College, Dublin. She is the recipient of a Beit Fellowship, an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, and the University of Cape Town Book Award (which she shared with the novelist J.M. Coetzee in 1991). Of Harvard, she said, “(It’s) a wonderful place to show students the relevance of the ancient world, where a lecture on the use of magic in the Roman amphitheater can be followed up by a visit to the Straus Conservation lab to see curse-tablets from Antioch unrolled after nearly 2,000 years.”

Asked once how he would like history to remember him, James T. Kloppenberg said, “as someone who was a good teacher, and who helped people understand the history of the United States more critically.” His entire career has been devoted to just that. He began teaching in the French language program at Dartmouth College, his alma mater, in 1972. He went on to teach at Stanford University’s program in Florence, Italy, before moving on to Brandeis University.

He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991, the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 1999, and the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize for Senior Faculty (at Harvard) in 2002.

Of the Harvard College Professorship, Kloppenberg said, “I interpret this honor as I did the Levenson prize, as evidence that heavy workloads and inflexible deadlines don’t necessarily antagonize Harvard students, who like to be taken seriously and who are here precisely because they rise to challenges.”

Harry R. Lewis ’68, Ph.D. ’74 has been a powerful presence in Harvard classrooms since becoming assistant professor in 1974. He has also taught throughout his term as dean of Harvard College, which began in 1995.

“Teaching is my greatest joy, and it has been an enormous privilege to have taught almost every undergraduate who has studied computer science in Harvard College back to the time of Bill Gates. I continue to take great satisfaction in seeing the contributions my former students are making to industry, academia, and society in the U.S. and abroad.”

James L. Watson, a world-renowned scholar of Chinese rural life, has focused his research on Chinese emigration to London, ancestor worship and popular religion, family life and village organization, food systems, and the emergence of a postsocialist culture in the People’s Republic of China. Even with his travels around the world tracking the Man lineage and its offspring, Watson continues to teach and work with students. Most recently, he has been working with Harvard anthropology graduate students to investigate the impact of transitional food industries in East Asia.

Ruth Roskies Wisse came to Harvard in 1993 as the first professor of Yiddish literature, one of only a few in the country. She hailed from McGill University in Montreal where she earned her Ph.D. and taught. McGill colleague Gershon Hundert, professor of East European Jewish history, said, “She was at the center of Jewish studies here, and as a teacher she was off the charts.”

Of the Harvard College Professorship, Wisse said, “I think if this weren’t my job, I’d pay for the privilege of teaching here – the students are that good and that morally serious. I’m very grateful for this honor.”