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New Gabrellian Director Rubin steers humanities in fresh directions

May 26, 2017
speaker behind podiumJoan Shelley Rubin speaks during the ceremony installing her as the Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center. (University photo / Deron Berkhof)

Capping an eventful year at the University’s new home for the humanities, Joan Shelley Rubin was formally installed as the inaugural Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center in May, in a ceremony at Rush Rhees Library. Rubin is the Dexter Perkins Professor in History and has directed the center since its creation in 2015.

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

Rubin joined the University faculty in 1995 and specializes in 19th– and 20th-century American history. She says that her work with the center flows naturally out of research to which she’s long been devoted.

“I’m a historian of the dissemination of the humanities, fundamentally,” she says. A cultural and intellectual historian, she’s 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.

Ani Gabrellian has called Rubin’s immediate vision for the center one grounded in an experimental approach. “We like that flexibility and open-mindedness,” she says.

three people wearing medals pose for a portrait

Joan Shelley Rubin, center, poses with Mark Gabrellian ’79 and Ani Gabrellian ’84, who lauds Rubin’s “experimental approach” to the center. (University photo / Deron Berkhof)

Last October, the center moved into its Rush Rhees Library home, a bright, inviting space designed to foster conversation and collaboration among center fellows, faculty, students, staff, and the public. In the next school year, the center will also function monthly as a performance space for undergraduates, featuring music, art, dance, film, poetry reading, drama, and other activities.

The center hosts and sponsors a wide variety of activities, including seminars, public lectures, workshops, and small-group activities. It’s also building relationships with a variety of local cultural institutions. The 2017–18 theme for programs is “Memory and Forgetting,” and a companion film series is being developed with the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman Museum, as well as related collaborations with Writers and Books, a literary center in Rochester, and the Memorial Art Gallery.

The center is also taking a role at Rochester’s East High School—a public school that the University has managed for the past two years—by including East High students in events at the center, supporting a humanities club, and sponsoring a two-week program next summer on the humanities and civic life.

And this fall, a new undergraduate curricular initiative for the humanities will launch, with the support of a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Rubin aspires to a wide reach.

“I want our center to touch the life of every University of Rochester undergraduate,” she says. “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