Campus News

Drake, Saunt named Regents’ Professors

Honor recognizes national and international reach of their scholarship

Two University of Georgia professors have been named Regents’ Professors, an honor bestowed by the board of regents on distinguished faculty whose scholarship or creative activity is recognized both nationally and internationally as innovative and pace-setting.

The university’s 2021–2022 Regents’ Professors are John Drake, Distinguished Research Professor in the Odum School of Ecology and founding director of the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, and Claudio Saunt, Distinguished Research Professor and Richard B. Russell Professor of American History in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Drake and Saunt were nominated for the Regents’ Professorship separately but, coincidentally, are currently collaborating on an interdisciplinary scholarly work on smallpox in early America. The project brings together their expertise in the dynamics of infectious diseases and American history.

“The research and scholarship of Dr. Drake and Dr. Saunt exemplify how dedicated faculty members can address challenges facing society and illuminate our understanding of society,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Their collaborative project demonstrates how leading experts at the University of Georgia work across disciplinary boundaries to advance knowledge.”

John Drake

John Drake, Distinguished Research Professor in the Odum School of Ecology and director of the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Drake’s research combines evolutionary biology, ecology and epidemiology to develop new quantitative methods that reconcile theory and data, with applications for forecasting the trajectories of epidemics and mapping the distributions of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola and West Nile virus. Professor Tim Coulson, head of the department of zoology at Oxford University, describes Drake as “the most innovative scientist of his generation currently working in the field of ecological and disease dynamics and the one that has contributed most in recent years to the modern stochastic theory of population dynamics.”

Drake has published 175 peer-reviewed papers, with many appearing in high-impact journals such as Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The global reach and impact of his research is evidenced by the more 17,000 citations his publications have received. Fifteen of his papers have more than 200 citations each. Drake’s research has been supported by more than $10 million in grant funding from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to being internationally recognized for his research, Drake is committed to the mentorship of students. He has been the principal or co-principal investigator on two NSF training grants, one of which was a graduate program focused on infectious disease ecology across scales while the other is an undergraduate program on the population biology of infectious diseases that seeks to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in the field.

Drake has served as the Odum School’s associate dean for academic affairs since 2017. Outside of UGA, he serves the scientific community through editorial boards of top journals and service on advisory boards. In 2021, he founded the Global Infectious Disease Intelligence Consortium to bring leaders in academia, government agencies, industry and nongovernmental organizations together to better understand and respond to emerging infectious diseases. His outreach also includes more than 100 editorials and media appearances, including regular articles for on infectious disease dynamics and interviews with outlets ranging from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to the BBC.

His honors include receiving UGA’s Creative Research Medal, being selected as the Leverhulme Visiting Professor and Keeley Visiting Fellow at Oxford University, and being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America.

Claudio Saunt

Claudio Saunt (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Saunt is widely recognized as one of nation’s foremost scholars of Native American history. He is a pioneer in the field of digital history and the author of four books that have been received with widespread acclaim, both within and beyond the scholarly community. In addition, he has published multiple award-winning articles in the leading journals in the field.

“Professor Saunt is, in my opinion, the most versatile American historian writing today,” noted Pekka Hämäläinen, Rhodes Professor of American History at the University of Oxford. “I would rank him among the five best American historians.”

Saunt’s most recent book, “Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory” (W.W. Norton, 2020), was a finalist for the National Book Award and is the winner of the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Ridenhour Prize. “Unworthy Republic” was also a New York Times critics’ top book of 2020 and a Washington Post top 10 book of 2020. His previous book, “West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776” (WW Norton, 2014), was shortlisted for the Cundill Prize in Historical Literature and earned the Harry M. Ward Prize for the best book on the American Revolution.

Saunt’s digital humanities scholarship includes the Invasion of America project, which maps every treaty and executive order between 1776 and 1887 to illustrate the incremental process by which of the U.S. government seized over 1.5 billion acres from indigenous people. It has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times and Washington Post, museum exhibitions that include the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and the ConnectED initiative of the White House.

Saunt’s scholarship has been supported by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Philosophical Society. He has chaired or served as a committee member for 30 doctoral and master’s students and is currently head of the department of history. His national service includes membership on the board of the American Historical Review and serving as a historical consultant and on-screen participant for “African American Lives,” the PBS television series produced by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Regents’ Professors receive a permanent increase in salary of $10,000 added to the merit raise in the year of initial appointment. In addition, awardees receive a yearly academic support account of $5,000 as long as they hold the Regents’ Professorship. For a comprehensive list of Regents’ Professors at UGA, see