A leader in humanities

A leader in humanities

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Obama appoints Katherine H. Tachau to National Council on the Humanities

The University of Iowa, long known for its strength in the humanities, has a new voice helping to guide the nation’s premier humanities organization.

Katherine Tachau
Katherine H. Tachau

Professor Katherine H. Tachau of the UI Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Having been nominated by Obama in January, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 1. Her appointment will run from Aug. 5 of this year to Jan. 26, 2018.

Tachau joins Christopher Merrill, the director of the UI’s International Writing Program, on the 26-member National Council on the Humanities. Her appointment makes the UI one of only three institutions nationwide to have more than one member on the council.

Tachau welcomes the opportunity to advocate for a continued central role for the humanities in American culture.

“I’ve always cherished the University of Iowa’s deep commitment to humanities teaching and research, and I’m delighted to be able to promote the humanities as an essential means of understanding ourselves as Americans and as citizens of the world,” Tachau says. “I am grateful to President Obama for selecting me, and I am pleased that my appointment helps to increase the UI’s already strong reputation for leadership in the humanities.”

Tachau has been a faculty member of the Department of History since 1985. Her training as a Medievalist began at Oberlin College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Medieval Studies in 1972, and continued at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned her doctoral degree.

She was a researcher at the Institute for Medieval Greek and Latin Philology at Copenhagen University in Denmark from 1979-81, and subsequently held faculty positions at Montana State University and Pomona College before coming to Iowa. In addition to the Department of History, she holds appointments in the University’s Center for the Book and the Medieval Studies Program in the Department of Classics.

Beginning with her award-winning first book, Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham: Optics, Epistemology, and the Foundations of Semantics, 1250-1345, Tachau's research has embraced several humanities disciplines, including the history of medieval science, medieval philosophy, medieval art history, and paleography.

A recipient of the UI’s Faculty Scholarship and a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Collegiate Fellowship, she has held fellowships at the Villa I Tatti (Florence), the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the Stanford Humanities Center (Stanford), and the National Humanities Center (Research Triangle, N.C.), as well as from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation.

The National Council on the Humanities advises the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency created in 1965. The endowment’s mission is to serve the nation by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans. It accomplishes this mission by awarding grants for top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers.

The endowment’s most recent chairman was longtime U.S. Congressman Jim Leach. Leach served in that capacity from 2009 until May 2013 and has since been appointed by UI President Sally Mason as a visiting professor in the College of Law and as the University of Iowa Chair in Public Affairs.


Nic Arp, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, 319-335-2818


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