Catherine Helie

John M. Musser Professor of French Alice Kaplan GRD ’81 will serve as the director of the Whitney Humanities Center starting July, succeeding John Hay Whitney Professor of Music and Humanities Gary Tomlinson.

This change will accompany leadership changes in several other centers and institutes at Yale such as the MacMillan Center, the Economic Growth Center and the Tobin Center for Economic Policy.

“Alice Kaplan is the ideal leader for the WHC, as a capacious thinker with a broad and global vision for the future of humanities,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said. “Above all, she a first-class scholar and a legendary teacher and mentor who brings together colleagues and students in engaging and innovative ways.”

Tomlinson led the WHC for eight years. Gendler said that during Tomlinson’s tenure, the WHC secured its national and international reputation as a vital and innovative hub for adventurous research.

According to Gendler, Kaplan will continue the WHC’s work in advancing scholarly exchange across the humanities at Yale. She will lead Yale’s WHC Fellows, a program that brings together some 40 faculty from across the University for weekly lunch gatherings that foster dialogue and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries.

Kaplan will also guide the intellectual agendas of the WHC’s programs by contributing to the direction of the center’s film series, lectures, workshops and events. Programs affiliated with the WHC include the Franke Visiting Fellows, Franke Lectures in the Humanities, Finzi-Contini Lectures and the Tanner Lectures on Human Values.

According to a Yale News article, Kaplan earned her Ph.D. in French and philosophy from Yale in 1981 and has been a member of the faculty since 2008. She twice chaired the Department of French and is the co-founder and director of the Yale Translation Initiative at the MacMillan Center. Kaplan’s seven books and writing span topics from France during the World War II era to French-American cultural exchange.

Bryan Garsten, who is a member of the WHC’s Executive Committee and the chair of the Humanities department, said that he was “really happy” with Kaplan’s appointment. He said he is excited to see how the WHC evolves under her leadership. He added that her writing is respected both within her field and beyond it, and he believes she will bring an “open, creative and inviting sensibility” to her role as director.

“Professor Kaplan co-taught a fantastic core seminar in the Humanities major recently, and the students reported what I already knew — that she is a fresh, independent and engaging voice for the humanities,” Garsten added.

Norma Thompson, associate director of the WHC and DUS of the humanities program, said Kaplan is “humorous, smart, energetic and creative.” She added that Kaplan has several areas of interest and a literary acumen, and is “historically grounded.”

Thompson noted that the WHC has already experienced Kaplan’s leadership, as Kaplan was acting director while Tomlinson was on leave. Thompson said that stepping in for someone is always difficult, but Kaplan was upbeat and worked well with the WHC’s Executive Committee.

Thompson has worked with two directors at the WHC: Tomlinson and María Menocal. She said that Kaplan represents a new range of expertise that will differentiate her leadership from that of her predecessors. While Menocal was interested in literature, languages and politics, and Tomlinson’s expertise ranged from music to culture and human evolution, Kaplan is at the intersection of literature and history, Thompson said.

“Like Menocal, and like Tomlinson, Kaplan is a holistic, humanistic person,” Thompson said. “I don’t know what she is going to do that is going to be different at the WHC, but I know it’s going to be good.”

This change in leadership will accompany a change in location. The WHC is scheduled to move from 53 Wall St. to 320 York St. in July. The new center will inhabit the renovated building formerly known as the Hall of Graduate Studies.


Freya Savla |