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boxes of various colors put together


Founded in 2008, the Syracuse University Humanities Center is located at the center of campus in the historic Tolley Humanities Building, named after William P. Tolley, Chancellor of Syracuse University from 1942 to 1969. Designed by local architect Archimedes Russell (1840-1915), the building originally was home to the Von Ranke Library, which opened in 1889.

Old photograph shows the interior of von Ranke library, including small writing desks and the library stacks.
Old photograph of Tolley standing atop a hill.

Library needs soon outgrew the space, despite an addition in 1903. In 1907, the collections moved to the Carnegie Library and the building served as the university’s Administration Building for the next century.

In 2007, Chancellor Nancy Cantor moved the chancellor’s office to Crouse-Hinds Hall to create room in Tolley for the new Syracuse University Humanities Center. Cantor then dedicated the Tolley building to the Humanities in 2010.

In addition to housing our administrative offices and Dissertation Fellow space, the Humanities Center hosts mini-seminars, dialogues, readings, and workshops in our beautiful seminar room and Sainsbury Library. The Sainsbury Library, opened in 2007, offers a welcoming environment for contemplation and intellectual exchange. This space is named thanks to the generosity of Leonard T. Sainsbury ('39, G'40) and his wife Ruth, who gave $500,000 in support of the humanities to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Leonard and Ruth Sainsbury smiling together

A distinctive feature in this space are two pieces by Light Work artist, Barry Anderson, commissioned in 2009 by the Center's founding director, Gregg Lambert, to fill the library window overlooking the grand staircase. The Center hosted an opening reception that year for a curated show of Anderson's work at multiple venues including the Everson Museum, SUArt Galleries, The Warehouse Gallery, Urban Video Project, Orange TV Network, Community Folk Art Center, The Red House Arts Center as well as downtown billboards, and video projections.

Thanks to the generosity of the SUArt Galleries, the Center is also filled with numerous contemporary prints, paintings, and collages from the university’s collections. Stop by to visit us and enjoy the art!

Photo shows artwork on glass with lighting behind it that hangs in the front of the Sainsbury Library

Photos on this page courtesy of Syracuse University Postcard Collection and Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives, Syracuse University Libraries.

Prior Directors:

  • 2014-2015 Gerald R. Greenberg, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs; Humanities; Curriculum, Instruction and Programs. Interim Director
  • 2013-2014 Dympna Callaghan, William L. Safire Professor of Modern Letters. Interim Director
  • 2008-2013 Gregg Lambert, Dean's Professor of the Humanities and Principal Investigator of the CNY Humanities Corridor. Founding Director

Prior Initiatives: