Anne Mitchell Whisnant, a historian with significant experience in university administration, teaching, and public scholarship, has been named the new director of Duke’s Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) program.
Whisnant will assume her new position August 15. She succeeds Donna Zapf, who retired in June after overseeing the GLS program for 20 years.
“We are excited that Dr. Whisnant will take on this important role,” said Paula D. McClain, dean of The Graduate School. “Her extensive background as an administrator, teacher, and scholar was very appealing as we searched for a director who can help the GLS program maintain its rigorous standards and strong reputation while continuing to evolve with our students’ academic and professional needs.”
The GLS program offers a master’s degree and a flexible, interdisciplinary experience in which students can tailor their curriculum to suit their goals, whether they are looking to enhance their expertise in an interdisciplinary field, pursue their intellectual curiosity, or explore whether to pursue a higher degree in a more specialized field.
“As someone with deep experience in both higher education and the vibrant, interdisciplinary field of public history, I am thrilled to take leadership of a program that so creatively fosters purposeful, self-directed learning in the context of Duke’s rich intellectual environment,” Whisnant said. “I look forward to collaborating with GLS faculty, staff, students, and alumni to sustain and build this vital endeavor.”
Whisnant has spent 14 years in academic administration at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From 2006 to 2016, she was the deputy secretary of the faculty in the Office of Faculty Governance at UNC-Chapel Hill. In that role, she transformed a small office into a robust operation that directly worked with more than 300 participants each year on shared governance.
Before that, she spent four years at Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, where she served as the assistant director for communications and programs, acting associate director, and Mellon project manager.
A scholar of U.S. history, Whisnant earned her master’s and Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Birmingham-Southern College. She has published in a variety of formats, including traditional academic venues, digital platforms, government studies, and publications for the general public. She is also principal and senior historian at Primary Source History Services, a historical research consulting firm that she co-owns.
Whisnant is the author or co-author of four book-length, peer-reviewed studies on the history of national parks. One of those—Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History—has sold more than 5,000 copies and sparked several other public history projects for the National Park Service.
She has a longstanding interest in using digital tools in historical work. Since 2009, she has been the scholarly adviser for Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway, a project hosted at UNC-Chapel Hill and funded by a grant that she co-wrote. The project has digitized almost 10,000 historical photos, maps, oral histories, and other materials and published them online.
In addition to her administrative and scholarly work, Whisnant has taught undergraduate and graduate history courses and advised graduate students for more than a decade, holding faculty roles at UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, George Mason University, and UNC-Greensboro. She has also supported graduate students through her administrative work, such as writing articles on graduate education in national media and speaking at professional development workshops.