Alice Kaplan named director of the Whitney Humanities Center

Alice Kaplan (Photo credit: Photo Editions Gallimard, Catherine Helie)
Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Alice Kaplan, a leading scholar of 20th- and 21st-century French and Francophone literature and history, has been named the next director of the Whitney Humanities Center (WHC). Her three-year term will begin July 1.

Kaplan, the John M. Musser Professor of French, will continue the center’s work advancing scholarly exchange across the humanities at Yale, guiding the intellectual agendas of programs such as the Franke Visiting Fellows, Franke Lectures, Finzi-Contini Lectures, Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Humanities/Humanity, and others. She will also lead Yale’s Whitney Fellows in fostering collaboration and dialogue that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

Kaplan “will bring a capacious intellectual vision to the directorship of the Whitney Humanities Center,” said  Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), in announcing Kaplan’s appointment. She noted that Kaplan’s seven books and writings on topics including World War II-era France, post-war culture, and French-American cultural exchange “have shaped the study of French intellectual life, earning broad readership and acclaim both within and beyond the academy.”

Kaplan’s 1993 work, “French Lessons,” was a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. Her 2000 book, “The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach,” was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critic Circle’s Award and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History. In 2005, her book “The Interpreter” won the Henry Adams Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government. Her most recent work, “Looking for the Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic,” was a New York Times notable book of 2016 and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Kaplan, who earned her Ph.D. in French and philosophy from Yale in 1981, has been a member of the faculty since 2008. She has twice chaired the Department of French and is the co-founder and director of the Yale Translation Initiative at the MacMillan Center. Under her leadership, the initiative has emerged as a key intellectual hub for the hundreds of members of the Yale community whose work touches on translation, from fields as diverse as the national literatures and comparative literature, political science, and computer science.

Kaplan will begin her leadership just as the Whitney Humanities Center moves from 53 Wall St. to 320 York, the renovated building formerly known as the Hall of Graduate Studies, which will serve as Yale’s new hub for the humanities.

Whenever Alice Kaplan is in the room, the conversation becomes simultaneously more sophisticated and more vibrant,” said Kathryn Lofton, FAS acting dean of the humanities, adding, “She is ingenious, humane, and inspiringly collaborative. We are thrilled that she has agreed to lead the center as it enters its new physical home and launches an expanded role in the humanities at Yale.”

Kaplan earned a B.A. in French from the University of California-Berkeley in 1975, after spending a year at the Université de Bordeaux III. She is a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and recipient of the French Légion d’Honneur. She is a trustee of the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France and a founding member of the MaisonDAR collective in Algiers.

She succeeds Gary Tomlinson, who led the WHC for eight years, during which time he “set a consistent focus on research, creating opportunities for adventurous, cross-disciplinary, and curiosity-driven initiatives arising directly from the faculty’s cutting-edge projects,” said Amy Hungerford, former FAS dean of the humanities. During his tenure, the center earned increased national and international visibility as a centerpiece for Yale’s excellence in the humanities.

It’s a great honor to follow on Gary Tomlinson’s brilliant work at the Whitney,” Kaplan said.

Paul North, professor of Germanic languages & literatures, will serve as interim director when Kaplan is on leave during the 2021 spring term.