Kathleen Canning

Dean Kathleen Canning
Kathleen Canning, Dean of the School of Humanities and Andrew W. Mellon Professor of History

Kathleen Canning is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of History and Dean of the School of Humanities. In this role, she provides leadership to a school with eight departments, 15 centers and programs, 170 faculty and eight academic departments, five of which have PhD programs.

Since joining Rice as Dean of Humanities in January 2018, she has developed a strategic vision for a more fully integrated and “connective humanities” at Rice and led several initiatives to raise the visibility of the school and to deepen its connections to the other schools at Rice and to key institutions in Houston and the region. Dean Canning has emphasized the crucial role the School of Humanities has in fostering a liberal arts education at Rice and has invested in interdisciplinary minors that have transformed student opportunities to engage the humanities even as science, engineering or social science majors. The growing popularity of our Program in Medical Humanities, Center for Environmental Studies (shared with Architecture), and Program in Politics, Law and Social Thought (shared with Social Sciences) attest to the pursuit of connective humanities. The founding of the interdisciplinary Center for African and African American Studies in 2019 has energized research and teaching in these fields and fostered deeper collaborations with the School of Social Sciences. Dean Canning also launched the new Big Questions courses that invite students from outside the School of Humanities to experience how humanistic and artistic inquiry can help students make sense of the world they inhabit and the daily dilemmas our society faces.

A key priority for Dean Canning has also been the creative arts — she has championed efforts on behalf of the new Susan and Fayez Sarofim Hall that will provide a home for the student arts on the ground of legendary Rice Media Center and that will anchor the visual arts as a vital part of Rice Humanities and of a Rice liberal arts education. She has hired nationally recognized creative writers, including poet Tomás Morín, who won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2022, Bryan Washington and Kiese Laymon, who won a MacArthur (“genius grant”) award in 2022.

Kathleen Canning is a historian of modern German and European history with an emphasis on the history of democracy and citizenship, gender and family, state, labor and social movements in the late 19th and 20th centuries. She has published widely on these topics and held several national and international research fellowships that supported her scholarly endeavors.

Prior to her arrival at Rice, Dean Canning held appointments in history, women’s studies and German at the University of Michigan, where she also served until 2017 as chair of the Department of History, the nation’s largest history department and one that was consistently ranked in the top seven.

Dean Canning has been an active and engaged teacher of undergraduate and graduate students: she was spotlighted in Newsweek’s College Guide as one of the nation’s “Four Great Professors” in 2009. At Michigan, she was named an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor for distinguished contributions to undergraduate education; she also won the Matthews Underclass Teaching Award for her innovative work in teaching first- and second-year undergraduates. For her contributions as a mentor and advisor of over 30 doctoral dissertations, she received the John D’Arms Award for Distinguished Graduate Mentoring in the Humanities.

Dean Canning first studied abroad as a post-BA Fulbright scholar: she completed a master’s degree at the Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany before embarking on PhD study at the Johns Hopkins University. She has spent more than 10 years living, researching and teaching in Germany. Her family is bilingual and bicultural: her partner holds a PhD in comparative literature with a focus on German, French and Spanish literature; her daughter is a 2021 graduate of Harvard Law and is currently embarking on a career in public-interest law in Washington, D.C.; and her son graduated from music school and works in digital music production in New York City.

Dean Canning has recently joined the Leadership Institute for a New Academy, convened by the American Council of Learned Societies, and is engaged in other national organizations and initiatives that aim to rethink and invigorate the place of the humanities in higher education and public life, including PhD education in the humanities. The School of Humanities at Rice represents a particularly vibrant site of scholarly research excellence and innovative teaching in the humanities that seeks to prepare our students for a changing world. Humanistic inquiry reaches far and wide and into every dimension of life. We invite you to join us in exploring this pursuit. To learn more, please contact the Humanities Dean’s Office at humanities@rice.edu.