Message from the Director

Image of Michele LamontIt has been a true privilege and honor to serve as acting director and director of the Weatherhead Center since 2014. I am absolutely delighted that Melani Cammett will be stepping into this role in July. Melani is the Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs in the Department of Government, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She knows the Weatherhead Center well, having served as acting director last year when I was on leave, as well as on the steering committee and the executive committee, and as the chair of The Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. Her research interests in comparative politics, development, religion and ethnicity, and the Middle East intersect with many ongoing activities at the WCFIA. I am confident that she will bring creative new ideas to the Center and will be a wonderful and inspiring leader. 

As I wrap up my term as director, I feel particularly thankful for the support and energy of the talented WCFIA staff, as well as for the trust and wise advice I have received from the executive, steering, and advisory committees. We have accomplished a great deal, thanks to sustained collaboration and consensus building, the support of University and FAS administrators and deans, and the daily guidance of the WCFIA leadership team. 

Following an external review early in my term, we initiated several important changes. We created the biweekly Weatherhead Forum, where Center affiliates and visitors present their research; this meeting addresses an important need for community building and intellectual exchange. The forum has met nearly fifty times since 2017, and several of the most recent sessions brought in over 200 participants. We also reconfigured the Weatherhead Scholars Program to foster collaboration between roughly twenty-one annual visiting professors, practitioners, and postdocs. In addition, we now sponsor six research clusters that cultivate intellectual risk-taking through multidisciplinary research—and bring together faculty, students, and visitors. Finally, we expanded our communications team and social media presence and have worked diligently to promote the Center and our affiliates’ publications to the community. 

In addition to these structural changes, we are proud of our commitment to—and collaboration with—our faculty and students in the following ways:

  • Over twenty-five Faculty Associates contribute to our peer review process and help us distribute close to $900,000 in support of student research annually.
  • A multidisciplinary steering committee contributes to evaluating faculty proposals and provides wise counsel on policy matters. 
  • The Center integrates faculty from a wide range of schools and departments, while supporting methodological pluralism. 
  • We contribute to promoting a supportive, safe, and welcoming workplace for students and faculty alike, navigating a significant crisis while fostering a strong collective identity. 
  • The Center has remained very active through the pandemic; we hosted a great many events and conferences and managed to take advantage of a few new opportunities. 

What is ahead for the WCFIA now, as the country and the world slowly reopen? Though the University has pointed to early August for our return to campus, it is still unclear what that return will entail. Uncertainty about office occupancy, community density, and hybrid remote/in-person events will remain for some months. As a truly international research center, we face challenges in getting visas, bringing people (back) to campus, and sending scholars to do field work. We hope to bring new students and scholars to Harvard while simultaneously supporting current researchers. 

And what is ahead for me? I will certainly miss my daily interactions with WCFIA staff and core faculty. I will continue to participate in Center events, to lead the Research Cluster on Comparative Inequality and Inclusion, and to serve on the executive and steering committees. But I also look forward to teaching and to completing my first trade book, What We Value: Redefining Worth in the Second Gilded Age (under contract with Simon & Schuster and Penguin). I’m eager to cochair the advisory committee for the 2021 United Nations Human Development report, which will deal with social resilience and inequality and inclusion during unsettled times. I also plan to have lots of lunches with interesting colleagues!

Thank you again for your collective trust and collaboration over these past seven years. These were rewarding times and I will certainly remember them fondly. 

Michèle Lamont
Weatherhead Center Director

Photo credit: Dave Nelson