Anthropology Prof. Jessica Winegar named next director of Kaplan Institute for the Humanities


Daily file photo by Alec Carroll

Kresge Hall, 1880 Campus Drive. The AA

Jacob Fulton, Reporter

As universities worldwide begin to adopt new methods of learning amid a pandemic, anthropology Prof. Jessica Winegar is looking to make the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities more inclusive for students as its new director.

Winegar has been at Northwestern since 2009, and previously served as interim director of the Institute for one year while her predecessor was on sabbatical. Additionally, Winegar has been a member of the Humanities Council, the Kaplan Institute’s governing body, for multiple years. Her appointment begins Sept. 1, according to the Institute.

Winegar taught the Institute’s first Global Humanities Lab — a program focusing on experiential learning and international travel. She said her background in anthropology, combined with her focus in Middle Eastern studies, will help her bring an international perspective to the Institute.

“I’m stepping in at a time of a global pandemic, which is requiring all of us in higher education to think about creative ways to address… global issues that are affecting all of us in very intimate ways,” Winegar said. “I’m very excited to think about how we might reshape the humanities to more directly address the global injustices around inequalities that have to do with race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and social class.”

Winegar said she struggled to fit in because of her social class, which has in part prompted her to study anthropology and focus on bridging inequalities in her role as director.

Winegar succeeds English Prof. Wendy Wall, who served as the Institute’s director from 2013 to 2020. Wall said the range of disciplines included in the humanities means each new director brings a different perspective to the Institute.

“It’s so exciting to see how the questions and conversations we’re having at Northwestern are being questioned and taken up by people outside of academia,” Wall said. “Jessica is very committed to the Institute, continuing its work in public humanities, and she also brings a really important global dimension to the job.”

Wall said she is excited to see how Winegar transforms the Institute, especially in expanding its global reach. Wall said she hopes Winegar’s Middle Eastern specialization will continue to move the Institute away from a Eurocentric focus.

Winegar said she plans to use the pandemic as an opportunity to challenge existing ways of communication in education. She said digital interactions can transform access and perception of the humanities, both within and outside the university.

“I’m excited to reshape how we can improve humanities, research and training so that our undergraduate and graduate students and our professors have more support in communicating our ideas to the greater public,” Winegar said. “We have a chance to use the humanities to rethink the role of higher education and society.”

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