Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities Katherine Elkins has been awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professorship, a three-year award effective July 1, 2018. With her professorship, Elkins will establish a digital humanities initiative at Kenyon, aimed at helping students develop into their roles as engaged citizens in a digital world.
Elkins’ proposal builds on her work last year with her experimental “Programming Humanity” course, which she co-taught with Visiting Instructor of Humanities Jon Chun. In the course, students paired their understanding of key concepts like data, probabilistic programming and artificial intelligence with lively debate surrounding social issues such as biased data, predictive policing and unemployment. The course attracted students from a wide variety of majors, including drama, mathematics, psychology and comparative literature.
“I’m excited to bring digital humanities to Kenyon in a way that’s unique to our strengths as an institution,” Elkins said. “The digital informs nearly every social issue of the day, and the key is to educate students with a liberal arts perspective that blends curiosity, critique and cross-disciplinary flexibility. Now more than ever we need a diversity of perspectives to debate and even shape how our digital future unfolds.”
The NEH professorship honors a member of Kenyon’s humanities faculty who has not only displayed excellence in teaching, but also has developed a compelling vision for how the professorship would enhance the broader study of humanities at Kenyon. It is funded by the earnings from an endowment created by an NEH grant and gifts from friends of Kenyon. To assist Elkins as she pursues her work, the professorship offers an annual reduction in teaching load as well as a salary bonus and an annual program budget.
Over the course of the three-year professorship, Elkins plans to build faculty support for the digital humanities through workshops, training on digital tools, and intentional networking. Central to her proposal is the development of cross-disciplinary relationships, to better integrate the digital humanities throughout all aspects of Kenyon’s curriculum.
“Kate Elkins won over our selection committee with her vision of how to enhance our humanities curriculum by introducing digital tools to our students early in their Kenyon careers,” Provost Joseph L. Klesner said. “Her three-year project promises to help our faculty see new ways to approach humanistic topics with the new hardware and software that emerges daily, all the while maintaining our commitment to the deep questioning that the humanities brings to the academy and those we educate here.”
Elkins joined Kenyon’s faculty in 2002 and has served as director of Kenyon’s comparative world literature program, which she founded in 2013. She earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from Yale University and a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley. Elkins earned Kenyon’s Whiting Foundation Teaching Fellowship in 2004, and in 2014 she was awarded the Senior Trustee Teaching Excellence Award.
The professorship was most recently held by Professor of English Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, who promoted an interdisciplinary approach to writing and highlighted science writing as a model for writing programs across the curriculum. Previous holders also include Professors of Spanish Katherine Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez-Nuñez, who held a joint appointment; Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel; Professor Emeritus of Sociology Howard Sacks; Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff and Professor Emeritus of History Will Scott, who held a joint appointment; Professor of Sociology George McCarthy; and Wendy Singer, the Roy T. Wortman Distinguished Professor of History.