Alexandra Gillespie began her first term as Vice-President of the University of Toronto and Principal of the University of Toronto Mississauga on July 1, 2020. The first woman appointed to the position, Gillespie leads our campus—and U of T’s second largest division—with a spirit of innovation, openness, and collaboration that have defined her career for the past two decades.
After receiving her BA in English at Victoria University of Wellington in her native Aotearoa, Gillespie 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 both a Professor of English and a leader across U of T. Recognized in 2010 with an Award for Teaching Excellence, her classes turn interpretation into a communal activity, in which the interplay of diverse student perspectives produces meanings richer than any single person could imagine alone.
This commitment to collaboration drives her 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 the Jackman Humanities Institute’s Digital Humanities Network; and as UTM’s Vice-Presidential Special Advisor in Research.
Gillespie’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 poetics of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to the fungi on Dunhuang printed pages. Her publications have uncovered in early books new stories about literatures, cultures, and ecologies in the premodern world. In more than forty articles, two monographs, and six co-edited volumes, her scholarship continues to change what it means to read the past in a book.
Gillespie has also worked to change the structure of humanities research as director of Toronto’s Old Books New Science Lab, where she connects graduate and postdoctoral researchers, faculty and librarians, and community partners in the collaborative pursuit of historical knowledge and understanding. This passion for informed teamwork animates Gillespie’s research and administrative leadership across the post-secondary sector, including her work as a primary investigator for the international Book and Silk Roads Project, funded by the A.W. Mellon Foundation.
As Vice-President and Principal, Gillespie works to open opportunities for community collaboration and belonging; to build reciprocal relationships with students, faculty, staff, librarians, alumni, and university partners; and to create together a sustainable, flourishing future full of curiosity, knowledge, and inclusive excellence.