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.
Society of Scholars
The Society of Scholars is an intellectual community of humanists of diverse generations, academic ranks, and departmental affiliations who contribute to and learn from one another’s work. Each year, approximately eight faculty and three dissertation research fellowships support members of the Society of Scholars who are working on major scholarly projects. Visiting scholars in year-long residence at the University of Washington may be invited to participate as well. The group meets biweekly throughout the year to discuss research in progress.
Digital Humanities Summer Fellowships
At the University of Washington the Simpson Center has been central to the emergence and growth of the digital humanities through its programming, opportunities for support, and facilitation of interdisciplinary scholarship. Its support of the digital humanities is inclusive of research and teaching, and the integration of the two. Thanks to the successful completion of a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant in 2013, the Simpson Center raised $2.5 million to endow the Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship program.
Barclay Simpson Scholars in Public and the Barclay Simpson Prize for Scholarship in Public
With the support of a generous grant from the PSB Fund—the family foundation of Barclay and Sharon Simpson—and matching funds from the University of Washington Office of the Provost, the Simpson Center for the Humanities welcomed the inaugural cohort of Barclay Simpson Scholars in Public in Summer 2021, with new cohorts to be convened biannually in the years ahead. Doctoral student fellows in the humanities devote the summer months to developing public-facing projects in their areas of study and practice and learning from the groundbreaking work of the faculty recipients of the Barclay Simpson Prize for Scholarship in Public.
The Barclay Simpson Prize for Scholarship in Public recognizes excellence in the public humanities, a field that promotes mutually beneficial partnerships across institutions and sectors, providing pathways for scholars to share their work with broader audiences. The four faculty members who have thus far been awarded the prize attest to the rich variety of meaningful public scholarship that is taking place at the University of Washington:
- 2015: Jim Gregory (History), on the history of the civil rights and labor movements in Seattle
- 2017: Michelle Habell-Pallán (Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies), on Latinx artists’ contributions to American popular music,
- 2019: Gillian Harkins (English), on education in prison, and
- 2021: Ralina Joseph (Communication), on convening community discussions on racial justice and systemic change.
Summer Institute in the Arts & Humanities
Beginning in 2002 the Simpson Center has sponsored, with the Undergraduate Research Program, the annual Summer Institute in the Arts & Humanities for upper-level undergraduates, an intensive twelve-credit research course on interdisciplinary topics for twenty students taught by four UW faculty and doctoral students; the Summer 2021 theme is “Monumental Reckoning: Unsettling Histories, Reimagining Futures.”
Katz Distinguished Lectures
The Katz Distinguished Lectures epitomize the integration of research, teaching, and public engagement for which the Simpson Center has become widely known. The series is named after Solomon Katz, who served for 53 years at the UW, as an instructor, professor, chair of the Department of History, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, provost, and vice president for academic affairs. Recent lectures include Anna Tsing (Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz) on the more-than-human Anthropocene; Chadwick Allen (English, University of Washington) on Native art and literature; and Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Earth & Environmental Sciences, CUNY Graduate Center) on abolition geographies. All Katz Lectures are free and open to the public, and many can be viewed here.
Graduate Research Clusters
Designated annually, Graduate Research Clusters foster crossdisciplinary collaboration and inquiry among graduate students in the form of cross-departmental reading, screening, and/or discussion groups, dissertation working groups, and other activities. Research clusters may organize activities that draw on local intellectual and cultural resources, including faculty and community leaders. In recent years, graduate students have organized research clusters on topics ranging from eighteenth and nineteenth century studies to racial capitalism to the medical humanities.
Graduate Microseminars and Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificates
The Simpson Center is known for its signature program of 1- to 2-credit graduate-level courses taught by distinguished visiting scholars and our own faculty to intellectually augment conferences, speaker series, and the presence of visiting scholars as well as to supplement the curriculum offered by departments. It is also known for supporting the development of graduate certificates in interdisciplinary studies, most recently the newly established Disability Studies Graduate Certificate.