Alexandra Gillespie—an internationally recognized researcher and teacher and a deep believer in the power of collaboration—is Vice-President of the University of Toronto and Principal of the University of Toronto Mississauga. The first woman appointed to this position, in July 2020, Alex works to promote inclusive excellence in a way that has defined her career for the past two decades.
After studying for her BA at Victoria University of Wellington in her native Aotearoa, Alex attended Oxford’s Corpus Christi College, where she earned an MSt and DPhil. She went on to a Research Fellowship at Balliol College, Oxford, and the Munby Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge, before joining UTM in 2004.
Since then, she has worked successfully as a professor of global book history and as a leader across U of T. Recognized in 2010 with UTM’s highest Award for Teaching Excellence, Alex’s classes turn interpretation into a shared activity, in which the play of different student perspectives produces meanings richer than any one person could imagine alone.
This commitment to collaboration drives Alex’s administrative work, too. She has helped build thriving communities as Chair of UTM’s Department of English & Drama; as an early member of Toronto’s Initiative for Diversity & Excellence; as the first Director of U of T’s Digital Humanities Network; and as UTM’s first Vice-Presidential Special Advisor in Research.
Alex’s own research combines tradition with innovation, old books with new scientific technologies. Her expertise ranges from Middle English paleography to micro-CT scanning, from the poetry of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to the fungi on Dunhuang printed pages. Her publications have uncovered in early books new stories about cultures and ecologies in the premodern world. In more than fifty articles and six co-edited volumes, her research continues to change what it means to read the past in a book.
Alex also works to change the structure of humanities research as Director of Toronto’s Old Books New Science Lab, which connects graduate and postdoctoral students, faculty and librarians, and community partners in the collaborative pursuit of historical knowledge. The Lab’s current project—Hidden Stories, generously funded by the Mellon Foundation—brings together more than 130 collaborators from 60 institutions to develop new understandings of premodern books through their local and global relations.
As Vice-President and Principal, Alex works to realize U of T’s promise for our Mississauga and Peel communities: to extend our leadership as North America’s top public university for the employability of our graduates and to help give all our students a lift that lasts a lifetime. And she loves to be part of a UTM research and innovation community where some of the best students, faculty, and staff in the world work to make the world a better place.