Campus & Community

Bhabha to head Humanities Center

5 min read

Marjorie Garber will step down after 20 years as director of FAS center

Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature Homi Bhabha. (Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

In its relatively short 20-year history, the Harvard Humanities Center in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has become a renowned hub of intellectual discourse and a resource for humanities scholars throughout the Boston area, welcoming graduate students, faculty, and scholars.

The center’s success is due in large part to the leadership of Marjorie Garber, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English. Now, after 20 years as its director, Garber will turn the reins over to Homi Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature.

“Marge Garber has led the Humanities Center from seed to sapling to spreading oak – through 20 years of growth into one of the finest trees in the Harvard, if not Arden, forest,” said William C. Kirby, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences . “Her leadership of the center has made it the vital home for the humanities that it is. It is a welcoming place for scholars: interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and multinational in its outlook,” he said. “We are very fortunate to soon have the center in the exceptionally capable hands of Homi Bhabha. He is universally respected, and has the ability to bridge many disciplines, creating an environment for scholarly discourse. No doubt, he will build on an already strong foundation, taking the center to new heights.”

“Professor Garber has been an extraordinary director whose vibrant intellectual energy has provided a rich resource for scholars throughout the region,” said Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and dean for the humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “We are truly fortunate to have benefited from her leadership at the center. I am very pleased that Professor Bhabha has agreed to serve as her successor. His vision, creativity, and hard work will build on the strong foundation already in place,” she said.

Bhabha applauded Garber for creating a center that “has played an important role in organizing activities across the division of the humanities.” Those activities have included important national and international conferences “that explored interdisciplinary issues in the humanities.”

With a mission to “create the right conditions for lively interdisciplinary debates and scholarly conversations that reach out to the various schools and departments of the Harvard campus,” Bhabha envisions an expanded role for the Humanities Center, including greater involvement in curricular discussions. “The Humanities Center also provides the best institutional home for activities related to redefining the aims and opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate education,” he said.

“The Humanities Center has been a lively and integral part of the humanities landscape within FAS, thanks in large part to Marge Garber’s leadership, and it will no doubt remain so, with Homi Bhabha’s guidance,” said President Lawrence H. Summers. “There are also growing opportunities for the humanities, through the center, to inform a number of important intellectual discussions taking place across the University.

“Consider, for example, the debates about the ethics of scientific research, or the need for thinking about foreign policy matters to be informed by deep knowledge of different cultures. I look forward to having the University provide support for such activities, to help the center engage with such cross-cutting issues even as it strengthens its critical role within the FAS.”

Bhabha’s long and distinguished career in higher education includes teaching posts at institutions that include the University College in London, Sussex University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, and, of course, Harvard. Here, at Harvard, he has demonstrated his ability to bridge sometimes seemingly disparate divisions within the University. He holds appointments in both the departments of English and of African and African American Studies; is on the Board of Trustees of the English Institute; is a Rita Hauser Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute; and is chair of the Program in History and Literature.

Bhabha has written and lectured extensively about race, gender, culture, and the arts. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and is a regular contributor to Artforum. He has collaborated with contemporary black British filmmakers and was the keynote speaker at the “Race, Nation, Aesthetics & Fabrication of Modernities” conference at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“As the University pioneers developments that extend the horizons of the biological sciences, new technologies, and global international studies, the humanities have an enlarged, creative role to play in laying the foundations on which we interpret and evaluate these innovative ways of thinking and living,” Bhabha said. “Harvard’s Humanities Center will initiate such timely discussions by involving humanists in discussion with colleagues who are involved in specialized research at one end, or associated with policy development on the other. It will be our purpose to integrate and centralize these social, cultural, and ethical debates across the University.”

To enhance new international and regional initiatives, Bhabha intends to establish intellectual networks. “Globalization begins at home, and Harvard’s research institutes provide a rich resource of humanities scholars,” he said.

Recently Bhabha spoke in London delivering a keynote speech in the series that launched the United Kingdom’s Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) program on Diasporas, Migration and Identities. He was also the keynote speaker for the UNESCO Colloquium on Research and Higher Education in Paris. He is a frequent participant at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (DAVOS), advising and speaking on issues related to the humanities. Bhabha has been named a Distinguished Visiting Professor at University College, London. His forward-looking vision was long ago recognized by Newsweek in its list of “100 Americans for the Next Century.”

Bhabha, who will begin his new role in July, said that the Humanities Center “will embody the best spirit of the humanistic disciplines, and its activities will support creative and experimental ideas, while insisting upon the historical and critical scrutiny of responsible scholarship.”