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The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) awarded four Harvard College professorships—endowed positions for commitment to undergraduate education—last week.
Quincy House Master and Clowes Professor of Science Robert P. Kirshner ’70, Professor of History and African and African-American Studies Emmanuel K. Akyeampong, Professor of the History of Science Anne Harrington and Professor of the History of Art and Architechture Ewa Lajer-Burcharth will receive, in addition to their new titles, a semester of paid leave or funds to support research.
Reaction among the winners was uniformly positive. “I was delighted,” said Harrington, professor of the popular class History of Science 175, “Madness and Medicine” and former co-director of the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative. “I really enjoy engaging with undergraduates.” Harrington said she was particularly gratified that the title lends official institutional recognition to work with undergraduates, sending to faculty members a message of “confidence about what the institution values.” Kirshner has long been one of Harvard’s most visible personalities behind the lectern. His signature course, Science A-35, “Matter in the Universe,” has consistently been one of the largest in that core area, enrolling 223 undergraduates this spring.
“There’s a miracle at the center of the College,” said Kirshner, explaining that although Harvard professors are recruited primarily for their excellence in research, “there are people very interested in teaching.”
“We’re only keeping the promise when the people doing the pathbreaking work keep in touch with undergraduates,” he added.
Kirshner, who chaired the astronomy department from 1990 to 1997, was elected as president of the American Astronomical Society in 2003 and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He said he will probably use the money from the professorship to support his research on dark energy and the acceleration of the universe.
Akyeampong, who describes the award as a “wonderful honor,” was the chair of the Committee on African Studies until it was folded into the new Department of African and African-American Studies in 2003.
The focus of his research and teaching has been West African history, with particular attention to his native Ghana. He is currently finishing a manuscript on “towns and disease in Anglophone West Africa,” and said he is contemplating using the professorship’s resources for “a new project on cultural history among the Asanti.”
Lajer-Burcharth, an expert in 18th and 19th century French art, has also taught extensively on critical and feminist theory. She could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
—Staff writer Ross A. Macdonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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