The Columns

Rupke Named Johnson Professor in the College

— by on July 11th, 2011

Washington and Lee University has appointed Nicolaas A. Rupke, currently of the University of Göttingen, Germany, to the Johnson Professorship in the College, where he will focus his teaching and scholarship on the intersections of leadership and the history of ideas.

Hank Dobin, dean of the College, announced Rupke’s appointment, which will be effective on Jan. 1, 2012.

This new endowed professorship is one of several University-wide initiatives funded by the Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity. The Johnson Professorship in the College is one of two professorships funded by the program. The other is the Johnson Professorship in Entrepreneurship and Leadership in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, which is held by Jeffrey P. Shay.

“With the appointment of Professor Rupke will come a strong new connection across the College disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics, as well as a broad international component to the curriculum,” said Dobin. “He will be a member of the Department of History and will be a wonderful addition to our faculty. We look to Professor Rupke to introduce exciting, innovative, and appealing courses to the College curriculum.”

A native of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Rupke was trained in earth sciences in Groningen (B.S.) and in marine geology at Princeton University (Ph.D.). After establishing an impressive research record in marine geology, Rupke turned his interests to the history of science, particularly to late-modern biological and physical sciences as they developed in Germany and Great Britain.

He has employed a biographical approach to historical figures in science — an approach that blends historiography and the history of ideas to show the ways in which scientific leadership is a product not only of individual genius, but also of collective ideas and institutional forces. His books include works on William Buckland, the 19th-century British geologist, and Richard Owen, British contemporary and critic of Charles Darwin and founder of the British Museum of Natural History. Rupke has also written a major book on Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist and explorer whose work in botanical geography laid the groundwork for the field of biogeography.

Rupke held the Nelson O. Tyrone Chair in the department of history at Vanderbilt University prior to joining the University of Göttingen, where he has also directed the Göttingen Institute for the History of Medicine and currently directs the Göttingen Institute for the History of Science. He has held distinguished research fellowships at the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Oxford, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies, the National Humanities Center and the Australian National University Institute for Advanced Studies. He has been elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Geological Society of London, the Royal Historical Society, the German Academy of Science Leopoldina and the Göttingen Academy of Science.