Christopher Celenza, vice provost for faculty affairs at Johns Hopkins University and an expert in the intellectual life of the Italian Renaissance, will become dean of Georgetown College this summer.
Celenza, 49, previously vice dean for humanities and social sciences at Johns Hopkins, is also the Charles Homer Haskins Professor in the classics department, where he has served as chair. He holds a dual appointment in classics and in the Department of German and Romance Languages.
Georgetown College is the oldest and largest of the university’s four undergraduate schools, with 26 academic departments, 15 interdisciplinary programs and nearly 4,000 students.
Celenza is the author of seven books, including The Intellectual World of the Italian Renaissance: Language, Philosophy, and the Search for Meaning, to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018, and a book on the Italian poet Petrarch coming out in 2017 (London: Reaktion). He is also the editor or co-editor of three other books and has authored 40 scholarly articles.
“Dr. Celenza’s work – both as a scholar and as an academic leader – is extraordinary,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “We look forward to welcoming him to our university community and to the many ways he will animate our College and support our faculty and students as they engage in their very best work.”
Celenza will replace the current College dean, Chester Gillis, who has served in the position since 2009. After a sabbatical, Gillis will return to the department of theology as a faculty member.
Among his many accomplishments as dean, Gillis oversaw the implementation of many new academic programs, including new majors in African-American Studies, Justice and Peace, Biological Physics and Environmental Biology, and doubled the size of the computer science department.
A native of Staten Island, Celenza holds two doctoral degrees – one in classics from the University of Hamburg in 2001 and the other in history from Duke University in 1995.
He received his master’s and bachelor’s in history from the State University of New York.
Working in five different languages over the course of his academic career, Celenza has been a Fulbright scholar, a Guggenheim fellow and an American Council of Learned Societies fellow, among other distinctions.
“I was intrigued by the opportunity to join a really unique university community, where the highest levels of scholarly excellence are complemented by the very live, active concern for the education and well-being of undergraduates,” Celenza says of his new appointment. “A lot of what we do in higher education is, inadvertently or not, testing, forming and shaping the characters of young people.”
Tradition and Research
He also says he is impressed with the university’s Jesuit tradition of cura personalis or care of the whole person.
“I’m excited to become part of this tradition and have a newly inflected way of thinking about that,” Celenza says. “I’m looking forward to foregrounding aspects of cura personalis and the tradition of service for which Georgetown is known.”
“Coming to Georgetown, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institute of higher learning in the United States, is a fitting choice for me and my scholarship,” he says. “And since my research focuses on the Renaissance, what better institution to belong to than Georgetown, a product of the Society of Jesus founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century?”
Celenza says he thinks Georgetown College, and the university in general, has already “lit a fire” under undergraduate research.
“I think the ability of undergraduates to participate in research is tremendously important,” he says, “and I’d like to focus energies on that aspect and do everything I can to help that enterprise flourish.”
Celenza says his first months at Georgetown will involve talking with faculty, staff and other constituencies.
“I‘m going to have a structured three or so months of listening very carefully to different constituencies and groups,” he says, “especially among the faculty, departments, centers and so on to figure out together, from the ground up, what sorts of priorities we can all get behind as a team.”
Scholarship and Diversity
Celenza served as founding director of the Charles Singleton Center for the Study of Premodern Europe at Johns Hopkins between 2008 and 2010.
“That was a great enterprise, and I’m grateful that is still going strong,” he says. “The center is an important way to connect scholar-students doing work that ranged from the study of the world to that of the 17th and 18th centuries.”
But what he is most proud of during his time at Johns Hopkins is the work he did to help diversify the faculty, something he hopes to continue at Georgetown
“That was something I worked hard on as a member of very focused teams,” he says, “and learned a lot about.”
Between 1996 and 2004, Celenza served as an assistant professor, then associate professor and finally professor and associate chair for graduate studies, in the history department at Michigan State University.
When in Rome
While on leave from Johns Hopkins, Celenza served as director of the American Academy in Rome from 2010 to 2014.
He called that experience “unforgettable,” as he lived among about 80 scholars and artists, who at times included such luminaries as writer Toni Morrison and poet Seamus Heaney.
“What I found so valuable at the academy was the many voices of all these people, each one of whom was so intense and so interested in what they were doing,” he said. “It made me realize that that was something I really loved doing – helping people flourish.”
A Family Affair
Georgetown won’t exactly be new to the incoming dean when he starts his position on July 1. His wife, Anna Celenza, has taught at Georgetown since 2006 and is now the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music in the Department of Performing Arts.
An accomplished author, she teaches courses in music history and radio journalism. Some of the research for her latest book, Jazz Italian Style: From its Origins in New Orleans to Fascist Italy and Sinatra, took place while the couple lived in Rome.
The book is slated to be published Cambridge University Press next month.