A book-jacket biography of Maria Rosa Menocal lists her occupations as “writing and cooking, though not always in that order.” But Menocal fits other items into her schedule, too — an acclaimed author, she is also the R. Selden Rose Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and the director of the Whitney Humanities Center.
Menocal has taught at Yale for 16 years and in that time has published five books largely centered on medieval Spain, on topics ranging from the origins of European lyric poetry to the Arabic role in medieval literary history.
But Menocal has not let her writing distract her from her objectives as the director of the Humanities Program since she was named to the position in January 2002, her colleagues at the Whitney Humanities Center said.
“Maria Menocal — has transformed [Whitney] into a truly vibrant center for the Humanities,” Assistant Director of Humanities Norma Thompson said.
Recently, many students and professors have cited scholarship in the humanities as a desirable trait in potential dean candidates.
Thompson credited Menocal with the expansion of the Humanities Department faculty. She said Menocal excelled at recruiting existing University professors to the program.
“[Menocal] brought energy and vision to her role and succeeded in attracting excellent faculty from beyond the usual departments, such as Miroslav Volf from the Divinity School or Robert Burt from the Law School,” Thompson said. “She has encouraged faculty to teach across the disciplines in the same way that [the Directed Studies Program] and humanities students do, and the results have been extremely positive.”
Thompson also attributed recent experiments with underclassmen humanities seminars to Menocal’s initiative.
In spite of her administrative obligations, Menocal taught a course on Spanish religious history and a Directed Studies literature section in the fall.
Students said she continues to demonstrate academic prowess in the classroom.
“She’s a good teacher and a great lecturer,” Bill Perdue ’07 said. “She gave a lecture on Dante that was awesome.”
Menocal declined to comment on the possibility of her candidacy for the deanship.
Born in Cuba and raised in Philadelphia, Menocal received her Ph.D. in romance philology from the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Bryn Mawr College and at the University of Pennsylvania before coming to Yale.
Author of the critically acclaimed “Shards of Love,” a detailed analysis of the origins of European lyric poetry, Menocal is widely published in the field of medieval literature and culture. Her co-edited volume, “The Literature of Al-Andalus” in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature Series, is a recent example of her special interest in the mixed cultures of Spain.
Menocal has two children and lives in Manhattan.
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