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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 15, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 3
KSAS Sells Villa Spelman, Launches New Center

By Amy Lunday

The Krieger School sold Villa Spelman this month, parting ways with the 10-acre property in Florence, Italy, and directing the more than $18 million proceeds from the sale and the villa's operating expenses into other avenues, primarily graduate education. In tandem with the sale, the school has launched the Singleton Center in Pre-Modern European Studies, which will help graduate students find programs abroad and increase the university's international presence.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Italian Studies at Villa Spelman was established in the early 1970s in accordance with the bequest of Leolyn and Timothy Mather Spelman, who had spent much of their lives in the centuries-old building. In 1985 the center was dedicated to the memory of Charles S. Singleton, the internationally renowned scholar of Dante and medieval and Renaissance literature, who was a professor of Italian literature at Johns Hopkins for many years.

Where the villa studies were focused on Renaissance Italy, the Singleton Center will have a broader scope, designed to create a connection between the humanities and European studies wherever there is interest from students and faculty, according to David Bell, dean of faculty in the Krieger School. The plan is to collaborate with European universities, leading to greater research opportunities.

"Hopkins has a really long tradition of interaction with European scholarship--the villa was not the only instance of this sort of collaboration," Bell said. "We were founded on the model of German research institutions at a time when Harvard and Yale were basically gentlemen's finishing schools. Hopkins was the first American established research university, something that was alien to the U.S. at the time. We were a gateway for new European philosophical ideas, and this center will continue to keep Hopkins on the map in Europe."

Christopher Celenza, director of the Singleton Center, said he hopes that the center will appeal to scholars from across the university's divisions as well as to those who are disappointed that the villa was sold. Celenza, a professor in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures, said he believes that this new program "will make us more than the sum of our parts. The hope is that we'll involve as many people as possible and as many new innovative areas of research as possible."

In addition to the center's facilitating study abroad, Celenza and Bell said it will establish a presence on the Homewood campus with lectures and programming that will make it a regional hub, starting with an inaugural lecture series planned for spring 2009.

"We'd like it to be a link between ourselves and other universities in the area," Celenza said. "Our hope is to be a clearinghouse for any and all events in the area that relate to Europe before the advent of the modern world, before all the things we take for granted--like industrialization or mass transportation--came about."

The center will also embrace faculty from other Johns Hopkins campuses.

"We have a really formidable number of scholars here working on the culture of pre-modern Europe," Celenza said. "But we really don't have a means to unify those scholars that can lead to interdisciplinary research. I hope as the center evolves that we'll be the place where that happens."

The Singleton Center was formally approved by the deans this summer, with the formation of a faculty board, after it became clear that Villa Spelman would be sold. The proceeds of the 13 million euros sale of the villa will be used in a variety of ways to support academic programs in the Krieger School, and the annual costs of the Singleton Center will be fully supported by endowments that used to partially support the program at the villa, according to Adam Falk, dean of the Krieger School.

Selling the villa made sense, Falk said, given the need for millions of dollars in repairs and its annual operating budget of more than a half-million dollars. And the new incarnation of the Singleton Center, he said, will ultimately serve more people with a wider range of interests.

"The Villa Spelman is a treasure, and while in many ways we are sad to see it go from Hopkins, I know that it will be well cared for by the new owner," Falk said. "And I am very pleased that we will be continuing the Singleton programs in a new and more flexible form, allowing us to involve more students and more faculty than we have in the past."


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