In February of 2012, John Unsworth was appointed Vice-Provost for Library and Technology Services and Chief Information Officer at Brandeis University, where he is also University Librarian and Professor of English. In August of 2013, he was appointed by President Obama to serve on the National Humanities Council.
Before coming to Brandeis University, he was Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign from 2003 to 2012. In addition to being a Professor in GSLIS, at Illinois he also held appointments in the department of English and on the Library faculty. At Illinois he also served as Director of the Illinois Informatics Institute, from 2008 to 2011.
From 1993-2003, he served as the first Director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, and as a faculty member in the English Department, at the University of Virginia. For his work at IATH, he received the 2005 Richard W. Lyman Award from the National Humanities Center. He chaired the national commission that produced Our Cultural Commonwealth, the 2006 report on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Science, on behalf of the American Council of Learned Societies, and he has supervised research projects across the disciplines in the humanities. He has also published widely on the topic of electronic scholarship, as well as co-directing one of nine national partnerships in the Library of Congress's National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program, and securing grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the Getty Grant Program, IBM, Sun, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and others.
His first faculty appointment was in English, at North Carolina State University, from 1989 to 1993. He attended Princeton University and Amherst College as an undergraduate, graduating from Amherst in 1981. He received a Master's degree in English from Boston University in 1982 and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia in 1988. In 1990, at NCSU, he co-founded the first peer-reviewed electronic journal in the humanities, Postmodern Culture (now published by Johns Hopkins University Press, as part of Project Muse). He also organized, incorporated, and chaired the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium, co-chaired the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions, and served as President of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and later as chair of the steering committee for the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, as well as serving on many other editorial and advisory boards.
He was born in 1958, in Northampton, Massachusetts; in 1978, he married Margaret English, with whom he has three children: Bill, Thomas, and Eleanor.