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Joan Shelley Rubin named director of the Humanities Center

September 18, 2016
Joan RubinJoan Shelley Rubin, a noted scholar of American history, has been named the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center. (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Joan Shelley Rubin, a noted scholar of American history, has been appointed director of the Humanities Center at the University. Rubin, the Dexter Perkins Professor in History, has served as interim director since the center’s creation in spring 2015. She will hold the title of Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center.

“Joanie is an exceptional scholar and was at the forefront of the faculty advocating for a humanities center at the University,” said Gloria Culver, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. “She has done a wonderful job as the interim director, and her appointment into the directorship came after a long national search. The center is the intellectual, and soon to be physical, home for faculty and students interested in the humanities. It is in very capable hands with Joanie at the helm.”

The center, which will celebrate the opening of its permanent home in Rush Rhees Library in October, supports multidisciplinary engagement with literature, history, the arts, and philosophies of cultures past and present in order to foster educated, contributing global citizens.

“I am delighted by Joanie’s appointment, and I am confident that her leadership will ensure the center becomes a hub of multidisciplinary life on campus,” said University President and CEO Joel Seligman, the G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professor. “The humanities are a key priority of our strategic initiatives to move the University to the Next Level.”

The Gabrellian Directorship is named in recognition of the support of University Trustee Ani Gabrellian ’84 and her husband, Mark Gabrellian ’79. In addition to the directorship, the couple established the annual Hagop and Artemis Nazerian Lecture Series, named for Ani Gabrellian’s parents and directed by the center.

“Ani and Mark deserve our deepest gratitude for their generous support of the center and of the study of the humanities,” said Seligman. “They have long recognized the important role that the humanities play in the lives of our faculty and students.”

Rubin said that her work with the center flows naturally out of research to which she has long been devoted. “I’m a historian of the dissemination of the humanities, fundamentally,” she said. An American cultural and intellectual historian, Rubin is the author of The Making of Middlebrow Culture (University of North Carolina Press, 1992) and Songs of Ourselves: The History of Poetry in America (Harvard University Press, 2007), among other projects.

“We’ve been very impressed by what she has done while serving as acting director,” said Ani Gabrellian. In the center’s first year, Rubin spearheaded renewed engagement with the Central New York Humanities Corridor and, backed by support from Seligman and Culver, launched an array of programs to engage students, faculty, and the public, including public lectures, workshops, a work-in-progress seminar series, undergraduate research fellowships, and faculty fellowships.

Although the center’s space will not open until October, Rubin made the center feel like an integral part of the University from the very beginning, said Gabrellian. “Her vision for the immediate future is grounded in what she calls an ‘experimental approach.’ We like that flexibility and open-mindedness.”

Rubin joined the University in 1995 and specializes in 19th- and 20th-century American history and the history of the book. She serves as the history department’s director of graduate studies and also directs the America Studies Program, an initiative she helped found in 2011.

Collaboration and exchange are at the heart of the center’s efforts to enhance the study of the humanities at Rochester and strengthen ties to related disciplines. But Rubin said that she will also make sure that “the lone scholar, the isolating work of reading a text closely yourself,” is also supported.

And she aspires to a wide reach.

“I want our center to touch the life of every University of Rochester undergraduate,” she said. “It’s a lofty goal but an important one because I firmly believe that an appreciation for the humanities and an understanding of human culture are central to what it means to be an educated citizen.”

For more information on the Humanities Center, visit

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Category: University News