James A. Winn
Academic Profile


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James A. Winn took his undergraduate degree at Princeton summa cum laude and received his Ph.D. from Yale, where he wrote his dissertation under Maynard Mack. He taught at Yale (1974–1983), the University of Michigan (1983–1998), and Boston University, where he was a Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature. In 2009, he was named as a William Fairfield Warren Professor. At Yale, Professor Winn was active in the program in History, the Arts, and Letters, and chaired the Freshman program in Directed Studies. At Michigan, he was the founding Director of the Institute for the Humanities, now one of the leading interdisciplinary institutes in the U. S., for which he raised over $13 million in endowment. At Boston University, he served as Chairman of the Department of English from 1998 until 2007. From 2008 until 2016, Professor Winn was Director of the Boston University Center for the Humanities. Under his leadership, the Humanities Center, formerly known as the Humanities Foundation, altered its selection procedures, expanded its fellowship program, changed its name, and secured expanded space.

Winn’s scholarly work combines a deep commitment to the literature of England in the Restoration and early eighteenth century with a broad interest in the relations between literature and the other arts. His first book, A Window in the Bosom: The Letters of Alexander Pope (1977), was the first extended study of Pope’s correspondence; his second, Unsuspected Eloquence: A History of the Relations between Poetry and Music (1981) remains the only general study of its kind. His biography of Dryden, John Dryden and his World (1987), won the British Humanities Council Prize and the Yale University Press Governors’ Award; it led to a further study placing Dryden and others in the context of Restoration music, painting, and gender politics: “When Beauty Fires the Blood”: Love and the Arts in the Age of Dryden (1992). Winn has edited book-length collections of essays on Pope and Dryden, written articles on subjects as diverse as Milton, Faulkner, and the Beatles, and ventured polemical pieces on deconstruction, the new historicism, and the practice of tenure. He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Winn’s recent books have aimed at a wider audience. The Pale of Words: Reflections on the Humanities and Performance (Yale, 1998), is an expanded version of the James Murray Brown lectures, which he delivered at the University of Aberdeen in 1996. In this deliberately provocative book, Winn contends that the disciplines we call the humanities have identified themselves excessively with the written word. He exposes the hostility and fear with which writers and philosophers throughout Western history have regarded forms of expression not couched in words, despite the fact that much of what humanists study originates in performance. The Poetry of War (Cambridge, 2008), a timely book for general readers, is grounded in the belief that poetry tells the deepest truths about war. Drawing on poets from Homer to Bruce Springsteen, Winn shows how they express and question our personal reasons for fighting— honor, shame, comradeship, revenge—and how they shape and expose our corporate incentives for warfare—religion, empire, chivalry, freedom.

Winn’s most recent book, Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts (Oxford, 2014), uses close study of the poetry, music, and art produced during her lifetime to argue for a very different view of an underrated monarch. For videos and reviews related to this book, return to the homepage.

Winn’s scholarly interest in music reflects his continuing career as a concert flutist. For more information about his musical career, click here.

Professor Winn retired from Boston University in 2017. He now resides in Brattleboro, Vermont, and remains active as a scholar and flutist.