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Laura Skandera Trombley, Huntington's next president, boosts humanities

Trombley says she will keep making the case that the humanities are an indispensable field of study

For Laura Skandera Trombley, the Pitzer College president who was named Tuesday as the next president of the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens, it won’t be just a new job but a more visible platform for pursuing the most important theme in her career and for the Huntington’s mission: persuading people living at a time when tech is king that the humanities remain indispensable.

Trombley, who’ll take over from longtime president Steven Koblik on July 1, 2015, said her portfolio will include not just overseeing what goes on at the Huntington, which occupies a 207-acre estate in San Marino.

She said she will also project its mission of scholarship in art, history and the history of ideas outward so they can reverberate at a time when many fear the humanities are being shoved aside for funding and attention.

The Huntington is “a different megaphone” for this mission than leading a liberal arts college such as Pitzer, which has about 1,000 students enrolled at its Claremont campus, Trombley said. 

“The Huntington will be much more focused” for the broader discussion of the humanities she has pursued at Pitzer, she said.

Trombley is an an authority on Mark Twain who has written two books examining how women shaped the author’s life. She wrote the most recent one in early morning writing sessions before beginning her days as a college president.

“The humanities increasingly are treated as marginal to whatever the center is,” she said, citing cuts in federal funding for research and the widespread post-recession assumption that a college education’s purpose is to land a lucrative job.

Asked what her “elevator pitch” would be to interest people in the Huntington and help them understand its multifaceted, not easily defined offerings, Trombley chuckled and gave it a shot.

“My elevator pitch for the Huntington is that we all, everyone I have met in my life, loves the humanities. They’re just not [always] aware of it," she said.

"My job is to make people understand that every time they appreciate a photograph or picture or question the meaning of their life or have goose bumps because of a favorite play or song or movie, that’s the humanities.”

Give it some thought, she said, “and you will soon realize that life and the humanities are inextricable. That’s what I want to talk about, along with the pleasure that comes with having an active intellectual life.”

Trombley is no Luddite when it comes to communicating her passions, having blogged occasionally for the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast, where one of her topics was “Mark Twain’s Sex Toys.”

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