Former director of the Humanities Center Caroline Winterer embarks on new chapter of research

Professor Caroline Winterer is a star of Stanford’s humanities scene, having headed the Stanford Humanities Center from 2013 until Sept. 1, 2019. She completed her Ph.D. in history at the University of Michigan and has taught history at Stanford since 2004. Her research focuses on the history of ideas, political theory and the history of science. She is the author of five books, including “The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910” and “American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason.” A sixth book is on the way.

The Daily spoke with Winterer about her experience in the humanities in the past, present and future. 

The Stanford Daily (TSD): On Sept. 1, you stepped down from your six-year term directing the Humanities Center, expanding its research connections and undergraduate presence. How does it feel to step back from something you had been so involved in?

Caroline Winterer (CW): The most tangible change has probably been to my inbox — I get a lot less email. Stepping down now, I can say that I am proud of how the Humanities Center has grown. It is a unique humanities center because it houses such a diverse variety of scholars, from professors and graduate students to undergraduates doing humanities research for the first time. Our driving question was always how to engage humanities scholars across the university and to create the kinds of synergies that generate new research insights and discoveries. This specific sort of diversity — diversity of roles and scholarly backgrounds — is very powerful in a research university. 

TSD: Looking back on your six years, what do you think was the hardest challenge you faced?

CW: The toughest thing for me was not being able to offer more fellowships to deserving scholars. Every year, we’d receive hundreds of applications from outstanding humanities scholars but only be able to fund a few. In a perfect world we could fund many more scholars at various career stages since a year at the Center is so transformative.

TSD: And a favorite memory?

CW: A few years ago, some of us ran around campus dressed in those big T-rex costumes, wearing extra-extra-extra-large Stanford Humanities Center T-shirts. The message was that the humanities are not extinct. Some students and tourists laughed and took selfies with us. That memory makes me very happy.


(Photo courtesy of Caroline Winterer)