Melissa Nobles 
Kenan Sahin Dean, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

“MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is so important because all the rest of the endeavors at which the Institute so excels — science, engineering, business, and architecture — exist within political, cultural, and economic contexts, and those are precisely the realms that MIT's humanistic faculty research and explore."

— Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean, and Professor of Political Science

Melissa Nobles is the Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and a Professor of Political Science. Under Dean Nobles' leadership the School's mission is focused in three areas: 

Research and Innovation — To meet the world's greatest challenges 
Teaching Critical Skills    — A foundation for success in all endeavors 
International Education  — Educating leaders and global citizens 

Meeting great challenges

Announcing Dean Nobles's appointment, MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote:

“To tackle our global challenges — from water and food scarcity and climate change to digital learning, innovation, and human health — we need ambitious new answers from science and engineering. But because these challenges are rooted in culture, economics, and politics, meaningful solutions must reflect the wisdom of these domains, too. Professor Nobles offers us a vision of the humanities, arts, and social sciences [the humanistic fields] as the human stage on which our scientific and technical solutions have purpose and meaning. We are fortunate that she will bring to the deanship such an expansive worldview.”

Foreword: Computing and AI: Humanistic Perspectives from MIT

Foreword: Ethics, Computing, and AI | Perspectives from MIT

3 Questions: Dean Nobles on Advancing Racial and Restorative Justice

Story: Taking full account of the past


Nobles’ research and teaching have focused on the comparative study of racial and ethnic politics, and issues of retrospective justice. Her current research centers on constructing a database of racial killings in the American South, 1930–1954. Working closely as a faculty collaborator and advisory board member of Northeastern Law School's Civil Rights and Restorative Justice law clinic, Nobles has conducted extensive archival research, unearthing understudied and more often, unknown deaths and contributing to legal investigations.

She is the author of two books, Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics (Stanford University Press, 2000), The Politics of Official Apologies (Cambridge University Press, 2008), and co-editor with Jun-Hyeok Kwak of Inherited Responsibility and Historical Reconciliation in East Asia (Routledge Press, 2013). Her scholarship has also appeared in the Annual Review of Political Science, Daedalus, American Journal of Public Health, and several edited books.

Nobles is a graduate of Brown University where she majored in History. She received her MA and PhD in Political Science from Yale University. Nobles has held fellowships at Boston University's Institute for Race and Social Division and Harvard University's Radcliffe Center for Advanced Study. She has served on the editorial boards of Polity, American Political Science Review, and Perspectives on Politics journals. Nobles has also been involved in faculty governance at MIT and beyond, serving as the Associate Chair of the MIT Faculty from 2007–2009 and Vice-President of the American Political Science Association, 2013-14.

About The Politics of Official Apologies

Intense interest in past injustice lies at the center of contemporary world politics. In this book, Dean Nobles examines the political uses of official apologies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. She explores why minority groups demand such apologies and why governments do or do not offer them.

Nobles argues that apologies can help to alter the terms and meanings of national membership. Minority groups demand apologies in order to focus attention on historical injustices, the rectification of which, they argue, should guide changes in present-day government policies. Similarly, state actors support apologies for ideological and moral reasons, driven by their support of group rights, responsiveness to group demands, and belief that acknowledgement is due. Apologies, as employed by political actors, play an important, if underappreciated, role in bringing certain views about history and moral obligation to bear in public life.


Suggested Links 

Nobles website

Nobles webpage at Political Science

3 Questions: Melissa Nobles on Racial and Restorative Justice

News Story: Taking full account of the past

Foreword: Ethics, Computing, and AI | Perspectives from MIT

MIT Department of Political Science

Mission of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences