The Simpson Center for the Humanities seeks to advance vital research and spirited intellectual exchange on questions of broad and pressing concern through and across the academic fields of the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. As a research unit within the Humanities Division of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Washington, the Simpson Center supports scholarship that draws on the core areas of humanistic inquiry and beyond. Both basic and socially-engaged research are central to its mission which is expansive and interlocking:
- to support crossdisciplinary research
- to underwrite initiatives at the leading edge of change
- to offer innovative courses at the graduate level, and
- to foster work that is public facing, with a priority being the integration of research, teaching, and public scholarship.
Key to the Simpson Center's vision is the development of a culture of collaboration. Multi-year, intellectually ambitious, and socially compelling collaborative projects include “Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History,” “Biological Futures in a Globalized World,” "New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World," “Women Who Rock,” “Transformative Education Behind Bars,” “Capitalism and Comparative Racialization,” and “Humanitarianisms.” All of these projects integrate research and teaching, and possess a public dimension.
The Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities supports a wide range of research across the humanities and humanistic social sciences, with a focus on leading-edge collaborative projects with the potential to reach beyond the academy. One of the most comprehensive humanities centers in the United States, it is well-known for its scholarly fellowship programs and major initiatives in digital humanities, public scholarship, and reimagining the humanities PhD. Simpson Center programs are grounded in collaboration, crossdisciplinarity, and an ethos of experimentation.
The Simpson Center offers a rich spectrum of opportunities for intellectual community and plays a shaping and supportive role in the work of University of Washington faculty and graduate students. It provides funding and administrative support for scholarly fellowships, research clusters, graduate study groups, conferences, symposia, and microseminars, allowing faculty and graduate students to exchange ideas and develop projects with colleagues, visiting scholars, and members of other higher educational and cultural institutions. Special programs for undergraduates are also underwritten by the center.
The Simpson Center supports faculty-led projects on contemporary social issues and deep historical questions, and serves as an enlivening place for conversations across disciplines, publics, and communities. Funding is awarded to faculty to undertake projects such as organizing conferences and leading research clusters twice annually during competitive funding rounds, with applications reviewed by the Simpson Center executive board, a body led by the director of the Simpson Center and consisting of the dean of humanities, faculty from the divisions of the humanities, social sciences, and arts of the College of Arts & Sciences on the UW Seattle campus as well as from affiliated units at UW Bothell and Tacoma. The board also reviews nominations for the center’s Katz Distinguished Lectures in the Humanities, advises on policy, and actively participates in the development of new programs and initiatives.
The Simpson Center regularly welcomes short-term visiting scholars and often hosts postdoctoral fellows with portable fellowship funding, providing campus space, resources, and intellectual community for established and emerging scholarly voices in the humanities. The center contributes to the activities of the national and international organizations with which it is affiliated, including the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), the Western Humanities Alliance, the National Humanities Alliance, and Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life. In doing so, it facilitates the building of scholarly networks nationally and internationally.
The Simpson Center has received grants from national organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as from Seattle institutions, among them, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The Simpson Center is also sustained by support from donors. Major gifts from the family foundation of Barclay and Sharon Simpson and from Donald E. Petersen and Frederick Danz, among others, have underwritten forward-looking, interdisciplinary curricular and fellowship programs that would not have been otherwise possible.
Led by a faculty director appointed by the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, the Simpson Center has five full-time staff members.
Housed in the College of Arts & Sciences and first directed by Ronald Moore (Philosophy), the Center for the Humanities was established in 1987-88 with a fledgling budget and improvised space in a trailer on the edge of campus. Ten years later, under the leadership of Leroy Searle (English and Comparative Literature), it was awarded major support from the university’s central administration fund for interdisciplinary innovation, received a pledge of a $5 million endowment from philanthropists Barclay and Sharon Simpson, and was granted handsome space in the Communications Building. In Fall 2000 the Center dedicated its new space and honored the generosity of Barclay and Sharon Simpson for their transformative gift. The center was renamed the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities, in tribute to Barclay Simpson’s father, a lifelong supporter of humanistic education. The Simpson Center is presently directed by Kathleen Woodward (English).
Affiliations with local, national, and international organizations enlarge the Simpson Center’s scholarly networks. Their activities frequently inform and enrich our local initiatives. Some of these organizations include:
- Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI)
- Digital Humanities Summer Institute, University of Victoria
- Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC)
- Humanities Washington
- Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (IA)
- National Humanities Alliance (NHA)
- Western Humanities Alliance (WHA)