John Fabian Witt named next head of Davenport College

John Fabian Witt, the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law and professor of history, has been named Davenport’s next head of college for a five-year term, effective July 1, President Peter Salovey announced.

“Since 2009, Professor Witt has been encouraging students in both the Yale Law School and Yale College to inquire about the world we live in today from historical perspectives. He is an expert at weaving together contemporary and controversial topics with examples from the past to illuminate critical questions about law, politics, and society,” said Salovey in his announcement.

Witt — who holds three Yale degrees — is also a renowned scholar of the history of American law. He has published three critically acclaimed books (“Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History,” “Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law,” and “The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law”) and dozens of articles and book chapters. In the popular press, Witt has written for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among others.

“His work represents a journey through challenges and triumphs in the laws of war from the founding of this country to present day and moments in our history that have shaped and been shaped by our laws. His writing inspires us to take a deeper and broader look at our democracy and current political state,” said Salovey. “He has a talent for making history entertaining, approachable, and connected to our daily lives,” said Salovey.

Witt has received numerous awards and honors. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. His most recent book, “Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History,” was selected for the 2013 Bancroft Prize in American history, won the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book.

Witt grew up in Philadelphia, where he attended a Quaker school. He received his B.A. in history (1994), J.D. (1999), and Ph.D. in history (2000), all from Yale. Before returning to campus to join the faculty of the Law School and Department of History, he clerked for Judge Pierre N. Leval on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was the George Welwood Murray Professor of Legal History at Columbia University.

Witt will be joined in Davenport College by his wife, Annie Murphy Paul (BK ’95), who will serve as associate head of college. The two met at Yale. Paul is the author of two books of science journalism and dozens of articles in publications like The New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review. She has been a consultant for the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning, is teaching a Yale class on magazine writing, and is finishing a book on the science of the extended mind and what it means for the way people think and learn.

Joining them at Davenport will be their two children, Gus (age 8) and Teddy (age 11), who are entering the third and sixth grade respectively, and their dog Pixie, who they describe as “a furry lover of just about everyone and everything.”

The Witt-Pauls are avid baseball fans, hikers, and fishermen. Witt is a reader of contemporary fiction and says he is devoted to movies of all kinds — good and bad alike. He is also working toward improving his tennis game and says he would welcome the opportunity to practice with those in the community. Paul is described as one of New Haven’s finest cooks, “perhaps second only to the Davenport dining hall chefs.” The boys will bring their love of wiffle ball players to the Davenport courtyard.

Salovey thanked the members of the search committee — Ned Cooke (chair), Judy Chevalier, Louisa Lombard, Martha Schall, Katherine Kuenzle ’19, Sara Speller ’19, Jasper Tyan ’17, and Ruben Vega Perez ’17 — for their thoughtful work. He also expressed his gratitude to Head of College Richard Schottenfeld and Associate Head of College Tanina Rostain for their service to the college and its students.