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Deborah Cohen named executive director of Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Scholar of European and global history has served as interim director since January, launching several new programs for faculty and students
deborah cohen
Deborah Cohen is the author of four books, including the widely acclaimed “Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War,” an account of American foreign correspondents who reported from interwar Europe and Asia.

Deborah Cohen, the Richard W. Leopold Professor of History in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, has been named executive director of the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs effective immediately. A scholar of European and global history, Cohen has served as interim director of the Buffett Institute since January.

As executive director, Cohen will oversee the Buffett Institute’s mission to foster interdisciplinary teaching and research about the world beyond the borders of the United States. The Buffett Institute connects researchers from Northwestern’s 12 schools to government, industry, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations worldwide. In all its endeavors, the Buffett Institute brings academic expertise to bear on the challenges facing people around the globe today.

“Deborah’s leadership success as chair of the history department and her deep understanding of what can be accomplished in the Buffett Institute provide her with a tremendous foundation for success,” Provost Kathleen Hagerty said. “She is an accomplished scholar who has an infectious energy and enthusiasm for the work that inspires the people around her. President Schill and I are eager to work with Deborah to enhance the Buffett Institute’s impact on campus and around the world.”

While serving as interim director over the past several months, Cohen launched several new Buffett Institute programs for faculty, undergraduates and graduate students. The Elliott Scholars Program is a two-course sequence, paired with the Global Engagement Studies Institute, that immerses undergraduates in the field of sustainable development. An integrated approach to graduate student global research provides scaffolded support for each phase of doctoral work. Building on its interdisciplinary Global Working Groups, the Buffett Institute now offers international research fellowships for faculty and hosts topical lunch series to spark conversations across campus.

Last week, Northwestern announced a $10 million gift from Trustee Steven A. Cahillane ’87 and Tracy Tappan Cahillane ’88 (’17, ’19 P) to kick off a renovation of the Donald P. Jacobs Center, advancing Northwestern’s institutional priority toward fostering interdisciplinary innovation among social sciences and global studies. When construction ends in 2026, the renovated building will be the new home of the Buffett Institute, the School of Education and Social Policy, the Institute for Policy Research and several departments within the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“Our students and faculty at Northwestern strive to engage with the world in its entirety,” Cohen notes. “From pioneering climate science to cutting-edge social scientific work to investigations of humanity through deep time, they are shaping public understanding of complex international issues. It’s an honor to have the chance to contribute to an institute with a mission that’s utterly essential to current and future generations. And I feel very lucky to work with the Buffett staff, who devote their talents to the University’s global endeavors.”

Elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2018, Cohen has held fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, the American Council of Learned Societies (Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship) and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Cohen is the author of four books, including the widely acclaimed “Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War,” an account of American foreign correspondents who reported from interwar Europe and Asia. The book was recognized with the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Goldsmith Prize and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, and cited as a best book of 2022 by The New Yorker, NPR, Vanity Fair, BookPage and Booklist.

At Northwestern, Cohen has been awarded the Clarence ver Steeg Faculty Award for her mentorship of graduate students and the Charles Deering McCormick Professorship for excellence in teaching. From 2020-23, she served as chair of the history department.

She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and taught at Brown University before joining the Northwestern faculty in 2010.

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