The Institute for Advanced Study was established in 2005 with funding provided by the President’s Interdisciplinary Initiative on Arts and Humanities. The IAS was created to advance interdisciplinary and collaborative research and creative work among scholars, scientists, and artists at the University and in the broader community; to provide opportunities for sharing that work with colleagues and the broader public; and to serve as an incubator of new ideas. Ann Waltner was appointed as the Founding Director. Initially launched in the College of Liberal Arts, in 2008 the IAS was established as one of six University Interdisciplinary Centers that serve faculty from all colleges, professional schools, and system campuses at the University of Minnesota. The IAS is now a unit of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

Under Waltner’s energetic leadership, the IAS quickly became recognized as the place at the University of Minnesota where exciting things happen, where there is support for innovative work, and where faculty and graduate students can learn from one another in cross-disciplinary conversation. Faculty Fellows and Research and Creative Collaboratives represented disciplines across the academy as well as work ranging from preliminary stages to completion of manuscripts or works of art. The Institute offered support to already established collaborative groups, such as Theorizing Early Modern Studies (TEMS); it also worked to bring people together from diverse backgrounds to create entirely new areas of research, such as the technique of Bodystorming developed by the Moving Cell collaborative. In 2008 the IAS welcomed its first graduate student fellows, funded by the Graduate School’s Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship program. Also in 2008, the IAS began video-recording virtually all of its public presentations; these videos are available in the University Libraries Media Archive. From 2008 to 2013, the Quadrant project, a partnership with the University of Minnesota Press funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, brought in residential fellows in four research areas: Design, Architecture, and Culture; Environment, Culture, and Sustainability; Global Cultures; and Health and Society. In 2012, the River Life Program became part of the IAS, offering expertise in place-based research and a focus on the University’s specific location on the banks of one of the world’s great rivers. Capitalizing on this expertise, in 2013-15 the IAS hosted a John E. Sawyer Seminar, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, on “Making the Mississippi: Formulating New Water Narratives.” Open Rivers, the Institute’s open-access digital journal of public scholarship, grew out of the Sawyer Seminar, publishing its first issue in Fall 2015.

Jennifer Gunn began her tenure as the Institute’s second Director in August 2014. With Gunn’s leadership, the IAS expanded collaboration with other interdisciplinary centers at and beyond the University of Minnesota to support interdisciplinarity and diversity in graduate education. The IAS joined Humanities Without Walls, a consortium of Midwestern research universities that funds an intensive summer workshop exploring career diversity for humanities PhD students, and Grand Research Challenge awards for collaborative teams in interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research collaborations. The IAS received a $190,000 grant from the Social Science Research Council in 2017-19 that funded summer research and participation in intensive workshops on interdisciplinary proposal development for three cohorts of graduate fellows. Under Gunn’s direction, IAS increased its focus on community-engaged work and became an important site at the University for developing and managing interdisciplinary and collaborative projects supported by outside funders. Gunn headed the Humanities-led Environmental Stewardship, Place, and Community Initiative, a five-year, $1.1 million project funded by the Mellon Foundation based on the Duluth, Morris, and Twin Cities campuses, focused on curriculum development by integrating Indigenous and other ways of knowing into environmental education with an emphasis on humanities education and experiential work; community-engaged activism to center Indigenous epistemologies and struggles; and institutional change both at the University and beyond. In 2020, the IAS organized the University’s response to an invitation from the Mellon Foundation to propose large, collaborative projects on the theme of “Just Futures” and subsequently served as the administrative home for the University’s successful proposal for five-year $5 million grant “Minnesota Transform: A Just University for Just Futures.” Minnesota Transform supported decolonial and racial-justice humanities initiatives at the University of Minnesota and in the community, supported 253 student internships, worked with over 90 partners on and off campus, and distributed over $500,000 directly to community organizations. The IAS weathered the COVID-19 pandemic under Gunn’s steady leadership, informed by her own research on public health and pandemics. In the fall of 2020, IAS public programming was offered virtually. When conditions allowed a return to in-person gatherings, online availability continued with hybrid events that allow the IAS to connect with a larger global audience.

Bianet Castellanos became the third Director of the IAS in September 2022. She established these priorities for her tenure: advocating for racial justice, strengthening community engagement, expanding international partnerships, and creating pathways for institutional transformation. The IAS reorganized its public programming to focus on these priorities, moving away from weekly presentations and offering robust roundtables and discussions among academics, professionals, and community members. Under Castellanos’s direction, the IAS has created an incubator program that develops promising ideas into projects suitable for external grant funding. The IAS increased its portfolio of supported grant projects, including “Remapping the Očhéti Šakówiŋ Oyáte” and the Sawyer Seminar, “Just Policing: Transnational Perspectives On the Definition and Possibility of Justice in Law Enforcement,” both funded by the Mellon Foundation, and “Archival Repatriation and Boarding School Healing: The Morris Indian Industrial School and White Earth Nation,” funded by the Humanities Without Walls Consortium. Castellanos is heading the Global Humanities Institute “Indigenous Mobilities, Tourism, and Racial Capitalism,” funded by the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes. The IAS is working in partnership with the Unidad de Proyectos Sociales at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán and the Humanities Research Centre at Australian National University on this institute for early-career scholars, which takes place in Mérida, Mexico in 2026.

From 2005 to 2010, the IAS was located in the Nolte Center. In 2011, the IAS’s staff and fellows were moved off campus to University Park Plaza, but public programming continued in the Nolte Center. In December 2013, the IAS moved into its permanent home in Northrop, the University’s iconic auditorium in the center of campus. In Northrop, the IAS regularly collaborates with other building residents, including the University Honors Program and Northrop’s dance and music series.

updated 17 May 2024