Art Historian Richard J. Powell Appointed Dean of the Humanities

Powell succeeds Srinivas Aravamudan, who is stepping down for health reasons and returning to the faculty

Richard J. Powell

Richard J. Powell, the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art & Art History, has been appointed dean of the humanities within Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, effective Aug. 1. He will serve as dean through June 2016.

Powell succeeds Srinivas Aravamudan, who is stepping down for health reasons and returning to the faculty. At this time, Aravamudan is not planning to go on medical leave and will continue his scholarship as a professor in the departments of English, Romance studies and literature.

“We welcome Rick’s wisdom and his talents, and are extremely grateful for his willingness to serve the institution at this time,” said Laurie Patton, dean of Arts & Sciences.

Powell brings a wealth of leadership experience to the role. He served as chair of Duke’s Art, Art History & Visual Studies department from 1996-2001 and as an affiliated faculty member in the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. He was editor-in-chief of the College Art Association’s “Art Bulletin” publication from 2007-2010 and now serves on the advisory boards for the “International Review of African American Art,” the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke and the Romare Howard Bearden Foundation. He is also a member of the scholarly advisory committee for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.

Powell’s research and teaching interests lie in American art, African American art and theories of race and representation in the African diaspora, and in the media arts and conceptualizations of the "folk" in world art and culture. In 2013, the Smithsonian Institution recognized his contributions to the discipline with the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History.

He holds a Ph.D. in art history and a master’s degree. in Afro-American Studies from Yale University, and was awarded Yale’s Wilbur Cross Medal for Distinguished Alumni in 2009. He was awarded the James A. Porter Award for Excellence in African American Art Scholarship from Howard University where he earned an M.F.A. in printmaking.

Aravamudan has been a major force behind the recent pioneering work in the humanities at Duke, said Patton. Under his leadership, Duke received one of the largest humanities grants from the Mellon Foundation for the “Humanities Writ Large” (HWL) Initiative. In collaboration with the Franklin Humanities Institute, where he also served as director, he developed the idea of cultivating faculty research through emerging networks in the humanities as well as new partnerships with historically black colleges and universities. HWL also focuses on new ways to engage undergraduates in humanities scholarship.

In addition, Aravamudan helped to conceive Duke’s new grant from Mellon on “Seminars in Historical, Global, and Emerging Humanities.” He will continue to run this grant, as well as the HWL program, and will serve a second term as president of the Consortium for Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) (

“Srinivas’ extraordinary leadership has allowed Duke to develop a signature unlike any other in the humanities in higher education,” said Patton. “As a scholar, as a former director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, as the architect of the Humanities Writ Large program and his extended leadership of the CHCI, he has been instrumental in extending Duke’s global presence and identity as an institution building international and global humanities networks.”

Aravamudan specializes in 18th century British and French literature and in postcolonial studies and literary theory. He is currently writing books on the history of the university, the concept of anachronism, and the theory of sovereignty and its relationship to religion and secularism. He recently garnered two awards for his work “Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel,” published in 2012. He won the Oscar Kenshur Prize for best book from the Center for 18th Century Studies at the Indiana University, and the 2014 Perkins Prize for Best Book in Narrative Studies from the International Society for the Study of Narrative.