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For twenty years, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen served on the English Department faculty at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Today, he serves as the Dean of Humanities in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU, with his tenure home in the Department of English. A prolific medievalist, ecocritic, and cultural theorist, Dean Cohen’s work takes on an ironic character at ASU. His last monograph, Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (2015), focused on the slow pace of geological time—contradictory to what he calls “the warp-speed” of ASU. He is also aware of his current project’s (Noah’s Arkive: Towards an Ecology of Refuge, a collaboration with Julian Yates) irony, remarking: “funny to have moved to the desert to work on a book about floods.”
Despite these contradictions, Cohen adores the desert. His perspective on the arid landscape reveals how this environment informs his administration. Ever the ecocritic, Cohen theorizes the desert, speculating that it is not sheer coincidence that Arizona is littered with attempted utopias. While he admits most of these paradises fail, he says the landscape nevertheless inspires just, compassionate, and open thinking about the future. And, he remarks: “ASU is part of that shared, millennia-long project.”
This fascination with the desert and his commitment to ASU’s message of accessibility informs Cohen’s thinking about the humanities. Through projects such as the Desert Humanities initiative, he hopes to intensify the environmental and public humanities. As a place that “challenges ingrained American habits of monolingualism and reduction into homogeneity,” the desert is the perfect place to consider the interdisciplinarity of the humanities. Such efforts are part of Cohen’s larger mission: to ensure that the humanities receive their day in the hot, desert sun.
Just as the humanities thrive in the desert, so does Cohen: “The desert feels like home. So does ASU.”
Image: ASU photo of Jeffrey Cohen.