Dear Faculty, Students and Staff,

As our year comes to an end, my team and I in the Dean’s Office want to express our gratitude for your support and resilience in these trying times and thank you for your innovative teaching and passion for learning. We also want to congratulate all of our graduates. The Class of 2021 not only weathered environmental disasters — from Harvey to the Texas grid collapse — but along the way, they’ve lived the values of Rice’s culture of care by mentoring and volunteering throughout Houston. Through their research, leadership and service, they worked tirelessly to reveal health inequalities laid bare by the pandemic and participated in new awakenings around racial injustice, thus challenging us to realize Rice’s mission of contributing to the betterment of our world. Every day, each of them carries this responsibility and promise for the social good forward, and for that, I couldn’t be prouder or more optimistic for our students’ future.


We are thrilled that we have been able to attract in the past year some of the most well-known American writers to our Department of English and its Creative Writing program, including assistant professor and prize-winning poet Tomás Q. Morín and Bryan Washington, the George Guion Williams Writer-in-Residence and Scholar-in-Residence for Racial Justice whose debut novel Memorial is being adapted for TV by the production group A24. And, most recently announced, critically acclaimed memoirist and essayist Kiese Laymon will join our faculty Jan. 1, 2022. Laymon, whose bestselling memoir Heavy won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, joins us as the Libby Shearn Moody Professor in Creative Writing and English. Along with Washington, he will help further our strategic vision for a more fully integrated and “connective humanities” at Rice by forging crucial links between the Center for African and African American Studies and Creative Writing, providing students with keen interest in the struggle for social and racial justice a chance to explore those themes in writing — students like graduate Taylor Crain who takes the cultural criticism and storytelling skills she learned as an English major with her to her role at gaming company Electronic Arts (EA).

We are especially excited that internationally recognized writer, art critic and educator Bruce Hainley joins us July 1, 2021, as the David and Caroline Minter Professor of Humanities and chair of our Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts Jan. 1, 2022. Hainley is known for his voracious engagement with art production in several forms, for his highly productive collaborative undertakings and his inspired and innovative teaching and mentoring of students and young faculty in the arts. His appointment and that of Kiese Laymon will be critical in advancing the creative arts as a vital dimension of the Humanities at Rice.

We are deeply grateful to Fayez Sarofim for his transformational naming gift and to all of our volunteer leaders and supporters who have given of their time, talent and treasure to make our new home for Visual and Dramatic Arts a reality. We are confident that the design of the new facility, to be built on the very grounds of the Rice Media Center, will honor the legacy of Dominque and John de Menil whose extraordinary generosity brought a team of art historians, an art library and a photography and film program to Rice. We will bid farewell to the Media Center June 4-5 at a film screening and open house.


We are enormously proud of Anthony Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religion and the founding director of the Center for African and African American Studies, on being elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the nation’s foremost society of scholars. Professor Pinn, who co-taught the course, Religion and Black Lives Matter, this semester, is the first Rice professor to be elected since 2017 and the second Humanities faculty member to be elected; Edith Wyschogrod, professor of religious studies, was elected in 1999. You can hear Professor Pinn share his professional journey in Connections: Humanizing the Humanities, our wonderful podcast hosted by Jeffrey J. Kripal, associate dean of faculty and graduate studies and the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought.


The following Humanities community members were honored by Rice this year for excellence in teaching, mentoring and service. They make us so proud! We extend our warmest congratulations to:


Marcia Brennan, the Carolyn and Fred McManus Professor of Humanities, Professor of Religion and Art History, and a member of the Medical Humanities steering committee, received the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching.

Joseph Campana, the Alan Dugald McKillop Professor of English and director of the Center for Environmental Studies, and Dennis Huston, the Gladys Louise Fox Professor Emeritus of English, received the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs’ Faculty Award.

Kathleen Canning, dean of Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of History, received the 2021 Friends of Rice Graduate Students Award in recognition of her leadership and commitment to graduate education in the school.

Lisa Lapinski, assistant professor of sculpture, received the Teaching Award for Excellence in Inquiry-Based Learning.

W. Caleb McDaniel, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Humanities, Chair of the Department of History, and Co-Chair of the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice, received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching and Service.

Alden Sajor Marte-Wood, assistant professor of English, received the Sophia Meyer Farb Prize for Teaching.

Robert Werth, a Sociology faculty member who teaches courses in our Politics, Law and Social Thought program, received Rice’s oldest teaching award, the Nicholas Salgo Distinguished Teacher Award.

Kevin MacDonnell, a graduate student in the Department of English, won the John W. Gardner Award for best dissertation in the Humanities as well as the Department of English Chair’s dissertation prize for his dissertation, “Ecological Innovation,” which examines how 18th-century British literature shaped the reception and articulation of innovative modes of production in the Atlantic world; he also received honorable mention for the Graduate Teaching Award for Independent Instruction.

Lillian Wieland ’22 (Brown College), who is majoring in Philosophy and minored in Medical Humanities, received the Student-Taught Course (STC) Teaching Award; she also won the School of Humanities Oral Presentation category in the Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium (RURS) for work that is a continuation of her ongoing research into death and dying: “The Baggage of Wellbeing: Freedom Through Meaning Making at the End of Life”.


We are pleased to congratulate Sophie Esch (Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures), Lacy M. Johnson (English) and Lisa Lapinski (Visual and Dramatic Arts) on their promotions to associate professor with tenure; Luziris Pineda Turi (Languages and Intercultural Communication) to associate teaching professor; and José F. Aranda Jr. (English, Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures), Lisa Balabanlilar (History, Transnational Asian Studies), Jacqueline Couti (Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures), Gisela Heffes (Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures), Betty Joseph (English), and Fay Yarbrough ’97 (History) to full professor.



Andrea Bajani, bestselling Italian novelist and poet who is currently a writer-in-residence in the Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures, and department colleague Gisela Heffes, associate professor of Latin American literature and culture and a member of the Center for Environmental Studies’ faculty steering committee, each published three books this year.

Elias Bongmba, the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor of Christian Theology and Chair of the Department of Religion, received the 2020 Ray L. Hart Service Award from the American Academy of Religion.

Sayuri Guthrie Shimizu, the Dunlevie Family Professor in the Department of History, received a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.

Matthias Henze, the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism, Professor of Religion and founding director of the Program in Jewish Studies, has received both the Lady Davis Fellowship from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he will be a visiting professor, and the Martin Hengel Fellowship from the University of Tübingen in Germany.

Age of Coexistence: The Ecumenical Frame and the Making of the Modern Arab World (University of California Press, 2019), by Ussama Makdisi, the Arab-American Education Foundation Professor of Arab Studies in the Department of History, was shortlisted for the 2020 British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize.

Timothy Morton, the Rita Shea Guffey Professor of English, and Dominic Boyer, professor of anthropology and a member of the Center for Environmental Studies’ faculty steering committee, have written Hyposubjects: on becoming human (Open Humanities Press, 2021) that takes an experimental approach to thinking about the social and environmental challenges of our times.


Art History PhD candidate Shane Harless received the Amici di Via Traveling Fellowship to engage in Italian field research for his dissertation, "Veiled Epiphanies: Encountering the Body of Christ within the Art and Architecture of the Poor Clares of Central Italy (ca. 1212-1350).”

Abdulbasit Kassim, a PhD candidate in the Department of Religion, won the Mellon-American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Dissertation Completion Fellowship; he is only the second Rice graduate student to win the fellowship and the first in the School of Humanities. His dissertation focuses on continuity and change in the intellectual history of Islamic thought, reform and jihad in Hausaland and Borno from 1700 to 2015.

Claire Spadafora Baes, Rachel Mohl and Adrienne Rooney, PhD candidates in the Department of Art History, were awarded the James T. Wagoner ’29 Foreign Study Scholarship. The scholarship will support Baes’ dissertation research in England, Mohl’s research in Argentina, and Rooney’s research in Trinidad and Tobago and in Barbados.

We are proud of the students on the George R. Brown Forensics Society’s debate team, which is housed in the School of Humanities, for winning three national debate competitions this year. We want to give a shout-out to David Worth and Shannon LaBove, director and associate director of our forensics program, for their outstanding leadership and coaching.


Jaclyn Dean ’12, the policy and government affairs director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and the first Rice student to minor in our Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities (PJHC) program, received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, which hosts the PJHC minor.

Daphne Flores ’21 (Jones College), who majored in German Studies, Political Science and Linguistics, and who traveled to Leipzig and Berlin, Germany, to immerse herself in the language and culture and to pursue international affairs and security studies, was awarded the prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.

Ashley Snell ’21 (Wiess College), who double majored in History and Psychology, received the Jenessa Shapiro Award at the Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium (RURS) for her poster presentation on “The Effects of Tension on College-Aged Children of Immigrants."


We are thrilled to announcement the appointment of new faculty members and postdoctoral fellows.

On July 1, 2021, we welcome the following new postdoctoral fellows:

Daniella Farah, who will complete her PhD in Jewish History in Summer 2021 at Stanford University and whose work is situated at the intersection of modern Jewish history, education history, Middle Eastern history and transnational studies, joins us as a postdoctoral fellow in our Program in Jewish Studies.

Also joining us as a postdoctoral fellow in Jewish Studies is Tamar Sella, currently a fellow at Harvard University where she completed her PhD in ethnomusicology in 2020.

Herman von Hesse, a History PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose research focuses on the urban, architectural, cultural and art history of Africa and its trans-Atlantic diasporas in the 18th and 19th centuries, joins us as a Sawyer Seminar postdoctoral fellow.

Laura Correa Ochoa, who is finishing her PhD in History at Harvard University in Spring 2021 and whose research interests are race, ethnicity, and modern Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly Colombia, joins us as a Rice Academy of Fellows postdoctoral fellow in History.

Kevin MacDonnell, a PhD graduate of our Department of English whose dissertation, “Ecological Innovation,” won the 2021 English Department Chair’s Dissertation Prize and the John W. Gardner Award for best dissertation in the Humanities, has been named a Public Humanities postdoctoral fellow in our Humanities Research Center.

Sophie Sapp Moore, a political ecologist with a background in critical geography, comparative literature and postcolonial theory, joined us earlier this year as a Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Humanities Research Center and the Center for Environmental Studies.

We are excited to welcome the following faculty in the Department of Transnational Asian Studies:
  • Eric Huntington, currently our Annette and Hugh Gragg Postdoctoral Fellow in Transnational Asian Studies, will be the T.T. and W.F. Chao Assistant Professor of Transnational Asian Studies, as of July 1.
  • Jaymin Kim ’08 (B.A. Asian Studies, History; PhD, University of Michigan), returns to Rice from the University of St. Thomas, as the T.T. and W.F. Chao Assistant Professor of Transnational Asian Studies, as of July 1.
  • Sidney Lu (PhD, University of Pennsylvania), joining us from Michigan State University, will be the Gragg Associate Professor of Transnational Asian Studies, as of Jan. 1, 2022.
Finally, Luis Campos (PhD, Harvard), will join us from the University of New Mexico in January 2022 as an associate professor of History and the Baker College Chair in the History of Science, Technology and Innovation.


As of July 1, Graham Bader, associate professor of Art History, returns as the chair of the Department of Art History. We want to extend our warm thanks to Leo Costello for serving as department chair.

G. Daniel Cohen, the Samuel W. and Goldye Marian Spain Associate Professor of History, will serve as interim director of the Program in Jewish Studies while Matthias Henze, the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism, and Professor of Religion, is on leave with two prestigious fellowships.


During the past year, we have continued to increase the visibility of the school through several strategic initiatives and priority projects:

Our popular “Big Questions” courses continue to attract students from all disciplines at Rice, allowing them to see the ways that humanities inquiry can help them make sense of the world in which they live and the daily dilemmas we face. See stories of our Spring 2021 courses and Fall 2021 courses.

Through Zoom events open to the Rice community and public, we attracted new audiences to join us in exploring some of the most pressing questions of our time. These included such topics as bioethics in the time of Black Lives Matter, co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy; the stakes of racial justice and the future of American democracy, a special Campbell Lecture organized by the Dean’s Office; a story map revealing Black life in Houston in 1915; and the work of Michel Foucault at the intersection of ethics, power and Christianity through an ongoing series of talks hosted by the Department of Religion. If you didn’t watch them live, be sure to check out our Humanities NOW conversations and talks hosted by our Center for African and African American Studies; Center for Environmental Studies; and Department of Religion. Enjoy more on our YouTube channel, including conversations hosted by Jewish Studies, and Cinema and Media Studies.

Since the start of the pandemic, physicians and other health professionals have turned to translational humanities — the process of turning important insights, observations and methods in the lab, clinic and community into interventions to improve the health of individuals and populations. With support from Rice’s COVID-19 Research Fund, the Humanities Research Center and the Fondren Library, Kirsten Ostherr,
the Gladys Louise Fox Professor and Chair of the Department of English and director of the Medical Humanities program, and a team of students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty have documented responses to the pandemic that involved some dimension of the humanities and they have shared their findings on a new Translational Humanities for Public Health website.

Our Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) launched a minor and graduate certificate and it created, in partnership
with Prairie View A&M University, Texas Southern University and the University of Houston, the Southeastern Texas African and African American Studies Consortium and hosted the group’s inaugural event. Building on decades of research by CAAAS’ director of undergraduate studies and historian Daniel Domingues, Rice is now home to SlaveVoyages, the world’s largest repository of information about the trans-Atlantic and intra-American slave trades.

This year, our Center for Environmental Studies and popular Environmental Studies minor organized the “Planet Now!” series of online conversations. The center also launched a new online publication, “Correspondences: a forum for the environment” and is hosting “Cultures of Energy iX: New Directions in the Energy Humanities” May 27-28.


May 27–28
Cultures of Energy
Center for Environmental Studies

Now through June 3
Foucault’s Confessions
Department of Religion

Sept. 14–15
Campbell Lectures with Amitav Ghosh
School of Humanities Dean’s Office

Oct. 18
Conversation with Edward Watts (UC San Diego)
Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures
Program in Politics, Law and Social Thought

Nov. 19–20
“In the Paths of Disaster”
Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures
Center for Environment Studies
School of Humanities Dean’s Office

Dec. 3–4
“Bound Away: Voyages of Enslavement in the Americas”
Center for African and African American Studies
Department of History

Look to the Humanities websites, social media channels, emails and other outreach for Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 School of Humanities events.
I look forward to seeing many of you in person when we return to campus in the fall. Until then, please accept my gratitude to our faculty and staff and warm congratulations to our graduates, and I wish you all good health this summer!


Kathleen Canning
Dean, School of Humanities
Andrew W. Mellon Professor of History
Rice University
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