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Psychology professor named to prestigious Berlin fellowship

Psychology professor John Kennedy is the only Canadian among the 40 Fellows named to the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

University of Toronto Scarborough psychology professor John Kennedy has been named a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Germany, a prestigious fellowship that he will hold for a year. He is the only Canadian fellow this year.

Kennedy focuses on the psychology of perception and cognition as it relates to art, particularly on line pictures drawn by both the sighted and the blind, and metaphoric representation in pictures such as political caricatures. He is one of 40 international scholars to be named for the upcoming academic year as Fellows at the institute -- called the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in German.

"Professor Kennedy is well known for his work on perception, metaphor and drawing by the blind, and has contributed widely to research on vision and tactile perception,’ said John Bassili, chair of the psychology department. “His recent work with his graduate student Igor Juricevic on linear perspective and the representation of depth has helped elucidate longstanding puzzles on the use of perspective in art. This fellowship will provide him with an opportunity for intellectual exchange among distinguished scholars in Europe."

Kennedy said he was surprised and delighted with the news. “When I first heard, I went up and down the corridor letting my colleagues, friends and students know about it,” he said. “I got a good reaction and it has been a real pleasure sharing the excitement.”

Kennedy has been with U of T Scarborough “for just a few years -- since 1972, but it only feels like a couple of years.”

“This is really a wonderful capstone experience for any scholar or scientist,” Kennedy added. “Going to a centre for advanced study for a year enables one to explore ideas and bounce insights off of expert colleagues in a huge variety of disciplines with enormous freedom.”

He first heard from the institute last September that he had been anonymously nominated by an international colleague for the fellowship. “They promised that they would get back to me in November, and when the end of that month rolled around I had pretty much given up hope. Then, on November 30 at 4:30 p.m., I received mail saying I had been selected, so they kept their word.”

Kennedy and his wife Jeanne will depart for Berlin in October 2008 and will remain there until the following July. They will be staying in an apartment supplied by the institute for the academic year while he participates in the duties and activities associated with the fellowship.

This is his third trip to Berlin, his first taking place in June 1963. At that time, he arrived in Berlin on the same day that his namesake, former U.S. president John F. Kennedy, was also there on an official visit. The president was making his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech at the Berlin Wall, considered a defining moment in the Cold War.

The next day, the professor crossed into what was then Communist East Berlin via the pedestrian border at “Checkpoint Charlie”, but at some point during that day he lost his passport. It was found at the checkpoint bookstore, and turned in to the border officials. “The Checkpoint Charlie guards were very amused that John Kennedy turned up looking for his passport,” he laughed. “No-one had stolen it, and I guess nobody else wanted to cross the border pretending to be John Kennedy at that point.”

During his upcoming stay in Berlin, Kennedy will meet with other Fellows at the institute and participate in various seminars and discussion groups, as well as attending various social events for the visitors.

For more information on the Institute for Advanced Study, visit :

by Mary Ann Gratton

© University of Toronto Scarborough