Stephanie Kirk, professor of Spanish, comparative literature, and women, gender, and sexuality studies, has been named the next director of the Center for the Humanities. Kirk is an expert on the literature and culture of colonial Latin America with a particular emphasis on gender studies and religion. She succeeds Jean Allman, the J.H. Hexter Professor in the Humanities, who has directed the center since 2014. A faculty committee chaired by T.R. Kidder led the internal search that identified Kirk as the center's next leader.
“I would like to build on the incredible work that has been done by the outgoing director Jean Allman and the center staff over the last eight years,” Kirk said. “My hope is to sustain and grow the work that has been done supporting faculty and graduate student research, innovating in the area of graduate education and career outcomes in the humanities, expanding the center’s global reach, and continuing to find ways to engage both with the rich history of St. Louis and some of its challenges.”
Kirk joined Washington University in 2003, after earning a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese at New York University. She is the author of two books about the literature and religion of colonial Mexico: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and the Gender Politics of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico (2016) and Convent Life in Colonial Mexico: A Tale of Two Communities (2007).
Kirk notes that it is a particularly exciting time for the humanities at WashU. She sees many ways that the humanities can contribute to and innovate on many of the goals outlined in Arts & Sciences’ strategic plan.
“I think the skill set possessed by humanities researchers allows us to insert ourselves into many of the key issues outlined in the foundations and pillars of the plan," Kirk said. "I would love, for example, to look at how the humanities represent the question of environmental racism as this is such an urgent issue in the world but, importantly, in our region. I am also keen to see how we can engage with some of the diversity, equity, and inclusion issues that are outlined in the plan.”
Outgoing director Allman is excited to see what Kirk will bring to the center. “It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to direct the center these many years. With the support of an outstanding staff and the collaboration of so many dedicated humanities faculty, we have been able to attract funding, both internal and external, to support faculty research, curricular innovation, and new ways of community engagement,” said Allman. “The center’s critical work for the humanities, for Washington University, and for our city will continue and it will grow in new and exciting directions under Stephanie’s leadership.”
The Center for the Humanities began as the International Writers Center, opening in 1990 under the directorship of William Gass. Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, became the second director of the International Writers Center in 2001. The center later expanded its mission to embrace the humanities more broadly, and in 2003 the International Writers Center became the Washington University Center for the Humanities. The center advances humanities scholarship through a variety of programs and funding opportunities, with support from organizations including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Stephanie is a talented scholar, and her leadership comes at an important moment in Arts & Sciences,” said Feng Sheng Hu, dean of Arts & Sciences. “Research and graduate education in the humanities are foundational to the mission of Arts & Sciences, and I look forward to working with Stephanie as she continues the great work of the Center for the Humanities.”