LOC Appoints Inaugural Jay I. Kislak Chair for the Study of the History and Cultures of the Early Americas

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress today announced the appointment of Stephen Houston, an anthropologist, archaeologist and epigrapher, as the inaugural Jay I. Kislak chair for the study of the history and cultures of the early Americas. He will begin his tenure in September 2018. While at the Library, Houston will work on a project titled “Classic Choreography: The Meaning of Ancient Maya Movement.”

By encouraging broad interdisciplinary inquiry, the Kislak chair will help nourish a wide conversation ranging from the technical aspects of archaeological discovery to issues of interest in the current cultural conversation in view of generating broad public engagement with themes related to the early history of the Americas. 

The Kislak chair is funded by the Kislak Family Foundation to support annually a distinguished individual to undertake research using the Kislak Collections and related materials at the Library of Congress. 

Houston, the Dupee Family professor of social science and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Brown University, has worked on the excavations of several major Mayan cities, most recently the ancient city of El Zotz in Guatemala and on collaborative advances in mapping with lidar technology. 

His interpretations of stylized representations of the human body reveal the concepts that underlie ancient Maya existence and his research on writing around the world reconstructs how early scripts begin, flourish and die. 

A major participant in the decipherment of Maya script, Houston draws on inscriptions and figural art to reconstruct the political and social structure of Mayan civilization, including the dynamics of royal court life and the role of religion. 

The Kislak Collection encompasses more than 3,000 rare books, maps, manuscripts, historic documents, artifacts and works of art related to early American history and the cultures of Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. It is considered among the finest collections of its kind in the world, one that brings together material that is of equal interest to scholars and the general public.

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress exists to help address the challenges facing democracies in the 21st century by bridging the gap between scholarship and policymakers. It does this by hosting top thinkers from around the world to conduct research in the Library’s vast collections and engage with national leaders. For more information about the Kluge Center, visit loc.gov/kluge/.

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