Karen Thornber named faculty director of Bok Center

Karen Thornber.

Karen Thornber.

Photo by Martha Stewart

3 min read

Karen Thornber, the Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature, will be the next Richard L. Menschel Faculty Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Hopi Hoekstra, Edgerley Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, announced today. Thornber begins her role July 1.

“Karen is a global scholar, an innovative and passionate teacher, and an experienced academic leader,” Hoekstra wrote in a message to faculty and staff. “In a moment when excellence in pedagogy will play a critical role in advancing FAS priorities — from promoting civil discourse in the classroom to harnessing the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence — I could not be more excited to have her in this critically important role.”

Thornber, who earned her Ph.D. in EALC from Harvard in 2006, succeeds Robert Lue, the inaugural faculty director of the Bok Center from February 2013 until his passing in November 2020. The Bok Center works with faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and postdocs, to identify and implement the most effective, evidence-based practice strategies for transformational teaching and learning in today’s rapidly changing educational environment.

“At a time when, as President Emerita Drew Faust highlighted in her May 2024 Phi Beta Kappa Oratory, universities are under ‘genuine and existential threat’ and ‘much is at stake in how and what we teach,’ it is imperative that we re-center academics and more actively promote intellectual exploration at Harvard,” Thornber said. “I look forward to working with Bok Center staff and partners across the FAS, the university, and beyond to create teaching and learning environments where all can flourish and that best prepare students for lives and careers of service, innovation, and leadership, nationally and globally.”    

Thornber’s research and teaching spans the medical and health humanities, the environmental humanities, gender justice, indigeneities, and transculturation as these fields relate to world literatures and the literatures and cultures of East, South, and Southeast Asia as well as Africa, Europe, and North America. Working in multiple East and South Asian as well as European languages, she has authored four major scholarly monographs including the recent Gender Justice and Contemporary Asian Literatures and Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy Care,” edited an additional four scholarly volumes, including “Global Indigeneities and the Environment” and published more than 80 academic articles. She is also the award-winning translator of Japanese writer Tōge Sankichi’s “Poems of the Atomic Bomb,” excerpts of which she read for Empress Michiko of Japan in 2015.

An innovative teacher and mentor, Thornber has taught a range of courses at Harvard, from first-year seminars on gender justice and literatures of pandemics and general education classes on mental health and other types of disease, illness, and health globally to graduate-level seminars on migration, translation, and transculturation. Thornber has served on the dissertation committees of nearly 60 Ph.D. students across 10 humanities and social sciences departments at Harvard. She also teaches in Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education (DCE) where she received the Commendation for Distinguished Teaching.