Cajetan Iheka named director of Whitney Humanities Center

Cajetan Iheka, the new director of the Whitney Humanities Center, is known for his support of emerging scholars and his collaborative approach.
Cajetan Iheka

(Photo by Andrew Hurley)

He is the author of two books that bridge African studies, literary and media studies, and the environmental humanities: “Naturalizing Africa: Ecological Violence, Agency, and Postcolonial Resistance in African Literature” (Cambridge University Press, 2018), and “African Ecomedia: Network Forms, Planetary Politics” (Duke University Press, 2021), which won the 2022 Ecocriticism Book Award for the Study of Literature and the Environment, the African Studies Association Best Book Prize, and the Ronnie Heyman Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Publication in the Humanities, among other honors. He is also the editor of two volumes of essays and has authored numerous articles related to literary history and environmental studies.

Iheka’s scholarship argues that the very media forms that narrate the problems of ecological degradation contribute to environmental destruction,” said Kathryn Lofton, dean of the humanities and interim dean of the FAS, in announcing his new post. “His work is a landmark effort to consider how narrative participates in human beings’ relationship to climate change.”

Iheka, who has held fellowships from the Mellon and Carnegie foundations, is currently a fellow of the Whitney Humanities Center. In announcing his appointment, Lofton said that his colleagues “are inspired by his sense of the collective good that drives much of his work.

He is known for generously making time to attend talks, read draft work, and advocate on behalf of emerging scholars both at Yale and beyond,” Lofton added. “His intellectual reach and enthusiasm for collaboration will build bridges from the Whitney Humanities Center at the Humanities Quadrangle to scholars across the university, including in the departments of English and Film and Media Studies, the MacMillan Center [for International and Area Studies], the art galleries, as well as the Council on African Studies.”

Lofton praised the contributions of Kaplan, who is also the founding director of the Yale Translation Initiative, during her tenure as WHC director in a time of major flux.

Throughout this epoch of dramatic change, Kaplan brought to her leadership intellectual cosmopolitanism and a powerful humanistic voice on campus, as demonstrated by a recent letter from the director she posted,” Lofton said. “Under her leadership, the Whitney Fellows program has thrived, building support for graduate students in the humanities, including the development of WHC Graduate Fellowships in the Environmental Humanities and summer fellowships for graduate student translation projects.

Her spirit of partnership and collaboration has marked her directorship: She has partnered with RITM [the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration], The Yale Review, the MacMillan Center, and other units on a host of programs. Her passion for literature has been evident in the writers she has brought to campus, as lecturers and as semester-long fellows. Her commitment to the presence of Yale scholarship internationally has resulted in increased support for publications and translations of books by Yale faculty.”

Said Kaplan: “My years as director of the Whitney Humanities Center have been eventful! We moved from the only home the WHC has ever known at 53 Wall St. to a shared space in the Humanities Quadrangle, and we used all our wits and all our solidarity to keep the fellowship together during the pandemic.

I have had the remarkable opportunity to maintain and build community and support the humanities as our home and our circumstances shifted,” she added. “I am especially gratified by the relationships we’ve forged: with RITM, The Yale Review, Environmental Humanities, and the Yale Translation Initiative, among other units and communities. This fall, Fei-Fei Li’s Tanner Lecture on human-centered artificial intelligence brought together colleagues from the sciences and humanities for the kind of vigorous dialog the Whitney fosters so well.

Kaplan said she is thrilled that Iheka, “a generous and collaborative scholar,” will bring a global perspective to the WHC and will continue the center’s efforts to promote an interdisciplinary community on campus that extends across and beyond humanities departments.

After she steps down from her post as WHC director on June 30, Kaplan will continue to collaborate with Iheka and WHC associate director Diane Barrett Brown on a new initiative, the Whitney Publishing Project, which aims to help graduate students and faculty navigate the publication process.

I am honored to follow in the footsteps of the eminent humanists who have led the Whitney over the years,” Iheka said. “Succeeding Alice Kaplan is a special honor given her field-defining scholarship and terrific leadership at the WHC. I look forward to working with students and colleagues across the university to build on the exciting work happening at the Whitney.”


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