Laurent Dubois Named New Democracy Initiative Co-Director

Laurent Dubois Headshot

Laurent Dubois, the UVA Democracy Initiative’s new co-director for academic affairs, was previously a history professor at Duke University, where he founded the Forum for Scholars & Publics. (Contributed photo)

The University of Virginia’s Democracy Initiative has announced the selection of Laurent Dubois as its co-director for academic affairs. Pending final approval from the University’s Board of Visitors, Dubois will partner with Melody C. Barnes, the initiative’s co-director for policy and public affairs, in providing leadership to shape the project’s development and direction.

The Democracy Initiative is committed to leading the way in sustaining, enriching and realizing democracy’s promise. It is a venture of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences in collaboration with schools and academic units across UVA, including support from the Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Dubois comes to UVA from Duke University, where he served as professor of history and romance studies as well as the founder and faculty director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics, a program created to promote public scholarship and to enhance the exchange of knowledge between scholars, subject-matter experts and the communities to which they belong.

“Attracting Laurent to UVA enhances our ability to take the Democracy Initiative to the next level,” Ian Baucom, Buckner W. Clay Dean of the College, said. “He greatly increases our capacity to shape scholarship and the student experience for years to come, and, in concert with Melody’s expertise in government and public affairs, we can share this knowledge with the world by engaging government leaders, practitioners and the public to advance democratic principles and culture.”

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As co-director for academic affairs, Dubois will spearhead the Democracy Initiative’s research and pedagogical missions by building a community of faculty, graduate and undergraduate scholars who will work to study and advance the prospects of democracy around the world. Dubois will also help facilitate the hiring of new faculty whose research connects to questions relevant to the Initiative, and he will lead the development of new educational and research programs that advance its mission.

As a means to achieve its objectives, the initiative has established four rotating “Democracy Labs” that bring together faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate and undergraduate students with those who have expertise in government, nongovernmental organizations or in business to explore specific research questions about democracy. One of Dubois’ primary responsibilities will be to serve as the director and lead research convener of the John L. Nau III History and Principles of Democracy Lab, the permanent core lab of the initiative, which will operate as the connecting hub for the entire project.

“Laurent has an impeccable reputation for running an effective and renowned public scholarship program through a collaborative leadership model,” Barnes said. “His experience in articulating a compelling vision, persuading a wide range of audiences of its value, and engaging thought leaders from inside and outside of the academy made him the standout candidate to help the Democracy Initiative become the global center for the study of democracy.”

Dubois is also a veteran educator and a specialist on the history and culture of the Atlantic world who has published several award-winning books, including “A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804” (Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture and UNC Press, 2004), winner of the Frederick Douglass Prize, and “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History” (Metropolitan Books, 2012), named a New York Times Notable Book of 2012. His writings on music, history and sports – soccer in particular – have appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate and Sports Illustrated.

“I’m deeply honored to have been chosen for this role, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Co-Director Melody Barnes and the whole team at the Democracy Initiative,” Dubois said. “The University of Virginia is a place where publicly engaged scholarship has long been centered and encouraged, and the support given the Democracy Initiative is testament to that.”

“I’m excited to work to make the Nau Lab a place where – through workshops, public events, classes and fellowship programs – we can bring together faculty and students from UVA as well as thinkers from across the nation and around the world to explore and better understand the history and principles of democracy, and therefore contribute to its future.”

Dubois joins the Democracy Initiative at a time when it is building tremendous momentum – even in a year where a global health crisis has limited its ability to host major on Grounds events at UVA. The “Democracy and the Pandemic” series continues to bring UVA faculty and community voices into a wide array of media outlets across the nation – providing important context and research to bear for a public looking for factual and reliable analysis.

The initiative also launched its Student Advisory Council to bring an undergraduate student perspective to its work, and is embarking on co-hosting the UVA Democracy Biennial in the fall of 2021 in concert with the Miller Center and with other UVA partners on Grounds, in the broader Charlottesville community, and with internationally known voices from around the globe. Like the May 2019 Presidential Ideas Festival, the biennial will engage a broad audience on a wide range of challenges facing democracy.

Media Contact

Russ Bahorsky

UVA College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences