Renaissance Humanism, Democracy, and the University


How does an engagement with Renaissance Humanism help us understand the contemporary role, and potential futures, of the university’s contributions to democratic life? Join us for a conversation between Christopher Celenza, a scholar of the Renaissance and Dean of the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences at Johns Hopkins, and Chad Wellmon, a scholar of knowledge and information and Professor of German and History at UVA. They will discuss the connections between their two new books – Celenza’s The Italian Renaissance and the Origins of the Modern Humanities & Wellmon’s Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age – and how their research shapes their perspectives on the contemporary university.  

The conversation will be moderated by Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne, a specialist on education and democracy in the ancient world, who was recently hired in the Classics Department as part of the Democracy Initiative’s faculty hiring initiative. 


Christopher S. Celenza

Professor Christopher S. Celenza is the James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. He is also a professor of history and classics.

Dr. Celenza was previously Dean of Georgetown College at Georgetown University, and a professor of history and classics. During his time at Georgetown he advanced many efforts to foster inclusion and equity, and developed a new undergraduate research program that improved opportunities for both students and assistant and associate professors. 

Previous to his 2017 move to Georgetown, Dr. Celenza was Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at Johns Hopkins, and held the Charles Homer Haskins Professorship in classics. He first joined the Krieger School faculty in 2005 as a professor in what was then the Department of German and Romance Languages. He also taught for nine years at Michigan State, and holds two doctoral degrees—a doctorate in history (Duke University, 1995) and a doctorate in classics and neo-latin literature (University of Hamburg, 2001).

Dr. Celenza has received numerous awards and grants, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He served as the 21st Director of the American Academy in Rome from 2010 to 2014, and as the Director of JHU’s Singleton Center for the Study of Premodern Europe from 2008 to 2010.

He is the author or editor of 11 books and more than 40 scholarly articles in the fields of Italian Renaissance history, post-classical Latin literature and philosophy, and the history of classical scholarship. An Italian translation of his book The Lost Italian Renaissance was published in 2014. His most recent books include Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer (London: Reaktion, 2017) and The Intellectual World of the Italian Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). His latest book, The Italian Renaissance and the Origins of the Modern Humanities: An Intellectual History, 1400-1800 is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.



Chad Wellmon is a  professor of German Studies, with appointments in History and Media Studies, at the University of Virginia, where he teaches and writes about the history of knowledge and information, the history of technology and universities, and media and social theory.He is also the co-director of UVA’s New Curriculum and Principal of Brown College. He studied political theory at Davidson College and did his graduate work at UC Berkeley.

He has written or edited books on the history of anthropology, the modern research university, the history of reading and print, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Max Weber. Within the past several years, he has also published in The Times Literary SupplementThe Chronicle of Higher Education, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Hedgehog Review. Recently, he has been leading, with Andrew Piper and Mohamed Cheriet, The Visibility of Knowledge: The Computational Study of Scientific Illustration in the Long Nineteenth Century, a project which combines computational techniques and the history of knowledge to study how scientific knowledge became visible to readers over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His latest book, Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age is available now. 


Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne

Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne is an Assistant Professor of Classics and Faculty Fellow of the John L. Nau III History & Principles of Democracy Lab of the Democracy Initiative at the University of Virginia. She received her PhD in Classics from Stanford in 2016, and was an Assistant Professor at High Point University from 2016 to 2021. Her scholarship centers on the educational practices and intellectual culture of ancient Greece, and how institutions of schooling in antiquity shaped the legacy of Classical Greece to the present. She has published several articles on Greek literature and cultural history in Classical Philology and Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. Her current book in progress, An Education in Fiction, argues that literate education in antiquity rigorously trained students to discern fact from fiction in written and oral narratives. This research has been awarded a 2021 Fondation Hardt Scholarship. Jacqueline looks forward to collaborating with fellow Democracy Initiative members and partners to explore the relationships between democracy, education, and the humanities in societies past and present.