Celebrating 20 Years of the Leslie Center for the Humanities

The Leslie Center has an "outsized impact" on campus, says Director Rebecca Biron.

As Dartmouth celebrated its 250th anniversary this year, the Leslie Center for the Humanities also marked a major milestone: 20 years as an intellectual hub for research in the humanities on campus. 

Humanities centers are not unique to Dartmouth, but the Leslie Center has had "an outsized impact" on faculty and students here, says Leslie Director Rebecca Biron, a professor of Spanish and comparative literature. 
Among its activities, the Leslie Center funds humanities institutes and faculty working groups—opportunities for scholars across disciplines to work together on topics of common interest. 

The center also provides funding for individual faculty and student research projects, sponsors lectures and arts events across campus, provides humanities lab grants to help faculty build experiential learning into their classes, organizes manuscript reviews for junior faculty working on their first books, hosts a range of formal and informal gatherings to build community around the humanities, and more. 

Biron is the center's fifth director, following director, Jonathan Crewe, the Leon D. Black Professor in Shakespearean Studies, Emeritus; Adrian Randolph, the former Leon E. Williams Professor of Art History; Colleen Boggs, a professor of English and creative writing; and Graziella Parati, the Paul D. Paganucci Professor of Italian Language and Literature.

"The Leslie Center at its core is collaborative," says Boggs. "So much of what the Leslie Center does is not visible in a tangible way, but nonetheless has long-standing repercussions for the knowledge that the center enables us to produce here at Dartmouth."

For Biron, the impact of the Leslie Center has been personal as well as professional. 

"When I first arrived at Dartmouth 13 years ago, I wrote to then-director Jonathan Crewe and said I'd love to start an interdisciplinary study group on the culture and economics of globalization," she says. "I came from another university where getting something like this would take tons of bureaucratic red tape. Jonathan wrote back within 20 minutes and said, 'You've just applied and been approved.'"

The experience of that group, which drew nearly two-dozen colleagues across disciplines, helped Biron feel that Dartmouth could be her intellectual home. "As a new faculty member, I was able to meet people from across campus. We had great conversations."

Working groups and institutes often generate books or new research projects, Biron says. "For me, the major thing it's done is introduce me at a deeper level to the work that my fellow faculty are doing, which has all kinds of unpredictable effects over time."

At a November reception celebrating Leslie's anniversary, Crewe spoke about the center's founding in 1999. "The '90s saw an interdisciplinary turn in the humanities and social sciences, and humanities centers represented an attempt to liberate humanities study from departmental compartmentalization." 

With initial grant funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, then-President James Wright approved the new humanities center, first located in Gerry Hall, Crewe said. A gift from Alan Leslie '30 and his wife, Fannie, established a permanent endowment for it, and, under its new name, the Leslie Center was launched with a conference on the future of the humanities. 

"The keynote speakers were two remarkable novelists: the Nobel Prize-winner J.M. Coetzee and Samuel Delaney," Crewe recalled. "These two could hardly have reflected bigger differences in point of origin and career trajectory."

In 2006, Leslie moved to its current location, a light-filled space on the second floor of the Haldeman Center, a building it shares with the Ethics Institute and the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding

What does Leslie have in store for the next 20 years? Biron says her hope is to have the center even more fully integrated into the day-to-day life of humanities faculty and students. Plans are underway for the center to move once again, this time to the heart of campus in Dartmouth Hall, when that building is renovated.

"We want people to walk by events and see what's happening," Biron says.
 
Hannah Silverstein can be reached at hannah.silverstein@dartmouth.edu.