Wertsch named David R. Francis Distinguished Professor


James V. Wertsch, PhD, founding director of one of the most successful and innovative global scholarship programs in the world, has been named the inaugural David R. Francis Distinguished Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Wertsch is vice chancellor for international affairs and director of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy. His new professorship took effect Sept. 1.

“Jim’s outstanding work has significantly contributed to enhancing the quality and impact of graduate education at Washington University, which is a very important achievement in this era,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “We are far better known internationally than when we embarked upon the development of the McDonnell Academy, and our success is due in no small part to Jim’s vision and leadership.”

Under Wertsch’s leadership, the McDonnell Academy has grown from having 15 leading Asian universities as partners to having 28 leading universities from around the world as partners.

In addition to his work with the McDonnell Academy, he holds faculty appointments in anthropology, Eurasian studies, international and area studies, and psychological and brain sciences, all in Arts & Sciences.

Wertsch previously was the Marshall S. Snow Professor in Arts & Sciences.

Since joining the faculty in 1995 as professor and chair of the Department of Education, he has played a major role in developing several areas of research and teaching in Arts & Sciences, including the International and Area Studies program.

A fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Wertsch is an expert on collective memory and identity. He has particular interest in how these issues play out in Russia, Estonia and the Republic of Georgia.

After earning a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1975, Wertsch spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow in Moscow, where he studied linguistics and neuropsychology. He then went on to hold faculty positions at Northwestern University; the University of California, San Diego; and Clark University.

Wertsch holds honorary degrees from Linköping University in Sweden and the University of Oslo, and he is an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Education. He is a guest professor at the University of Oslo, Tsinghua University in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai.

About the Francis Distinguished Professorship

Wertsch’s expertise on Russia is fitting for his new professorship as Francis once served as an ambassador to Russia. On campus, Francis is probably best known as the namesake of Francis Field, which was used in the 1904 Olympics and today is where the Bears football and soccer teams compete.

An 1870 graduate of Washington University, Francis went on to become governor of Missouri, president of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Co., an ambassador, and president of Merchants Exchange.

Francis had planned a career in law, but upon returning home to discuss his $450 college debt, he learned of an opening in the family grain business. After more schooling and work, he eventually rose to partner, and then president, of the business.

The university established the Francis Professorship in 2013 and enhanced it to the distinguished level this year. Wertsch is the first to hold the position.