Research News

Colin Dayan named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Colin Dayan with dog
(Courtesy Colin Dayan)

Colin Dayan, the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University, has been named to a distinguished class of leaders from academia, business, public affairs, humanities and the arts, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences announced April 17.

The academy, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, selected 220 new members for 2012. In addition to Dayan, the list includes U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, film icons Clint Eastwood and Mel Brooks, philanthropist Melinda Gates,  Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos, broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff, Civil War scholar David Blight and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. British recording artist Paul McCartney is among 17 foreign honorary members included in this year’s class.

“Colin Dayan has dedicated her scholarly career to questions of massive social significance: slavery, incarceration, human and civil rights, and to the very matter of the human,” said Carolyn Dever, dean of the College of Arts and Science and professor of English. “She combines a keen intellect with personal kindness, compassion and curiosity about her students and the world. Colin represents the very epitome of the scholar-teacher so highly valued at Vanderbilt.”

Caribbean literature, religion and history (especially Haiti and Jamaica); American literature; anthropology; and the law are among Dayan’s diverse areas of research. Dayan’s books include The Story of Cruel and Unusual (MIT Press), The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (Princeton University Press) and Haiti, History, and the Gods (University of California Press).

The Law Is a White Dog, which focuses on the legal methods used throughout history to deprive people of their personhood, was selected as one of the top 25 academic books of the year by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries.

“Between the Devil and the Deep Sea” and “Words Behind Bars” are among the numerous articles she has written for the Boston Review, among other journals.

Dayan joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2004 after teaching at the University of Pennsylvania for three years. Previously, she taught at Princeton, the University of Arizona, Yale University and the City University of New York Graduate Center. The native of Atlanta, Ga., earned her doctorate at City University of New York in 1980 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Smith College.

Dayan’s previous professional honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship in law for a project on slavery, incarceration and the law of persons. Courses she has taught at Vanderbilt include “From the Plantation to the Penitentiary: Interpretation, Literature and the Law” and a class on the poetry and prose of American writer Herman Melville.

Vanderbilt AAAS fellows named in past years have included the late Chancellor Emeritus Alexander Heard; Jon Kaas, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of Psychology; John Oates, the Thomas F. Frist Sr. Chair in Medicine; and Centennial Professor of Psychology Randolph Blake.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 6 at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

Since its founding in 1780, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

View the full list of 2012 fellows.