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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Scholars at Work

Author photo of Joe Wilson. He is close up smiling at the camera and has short blonde hair.

by Joe Wilson

Mar. 24, 2021

For many graduate students in the humanities, teaching is the primary way to secure funding and gain valuable experience for the competitive academic job market. The pedagogical training graduate students receive varies widely, but at the University of Washington, I’ve benefitted from the robust instructor training offered by the Expository Writing Program, which prepares incoming graduate students to teach the department’s bread-and-butter courses, i.e., first-year composition. Even so, the first message many new graduate students receive about their funding and teaching appointments generally includes a clause like this one (drawn from orientation materials provided by my former institution, a large research university in the American Southeast):

Permission of the Director of Graduate Studies is required for any employment, whether in the university or outside it, beyond the duties of the associateship.”

In the vast majority of cases, this permission is not granted. The underlying assumption here is that graduate students should be focused on research and teaching at their own institution—work that  amounts to (and often exceeds) the labor of a full-time job. This message was actually deemed so critical by my former institution that it was the only clause delineated twice in the handbook, highlighted in bold at each iteration to ensure that incoming teaching assistants would recognize the seriousness of their contractional obligations to the department. Yet these same graduate students are still encouraged to join professional organizations on campus, to serve on graduate student committees, to apply for research grants, and the like: they just cannot receive compensation. My current department recommends rather than enforces such regulations, but it has become standard practice in humanities graduate programs across the country to circumscribe the extra-institutional labor of graduate teaching assistants.

To examine the pool of adjunct labor for community college humanities programs—particularly those in areas geographically close to larger public or research institutions— is to understand that the target of such policies is community college teaching. Indeed, community college teaching on the part of graduate students is a common practice, understood to serve under-resourced institutions dependent on adjunct labor to account for budgetary constraints. Graduate instructors, for their part, cite inadequate graduate stipends and the need to make ends meet as their underlying motivation for taking on the herculean task of teaching upwards of 80 students across multiple campuses while pursuing graduate study.

As part of my research for the Mellon Collaborative Fellowship for Reaching New Publics in the Community Colleges, I’ve interviewed multiple community college instructors and found the story to be more complicated. Almost every instructor recalls...

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Adrien Kane Close-Up Author Photo on the Left. Jorge Bayona Close-Up Author Photo on the Right.

by Jorge Bayona and Adrian Kane-Galbraith

Mar. 2, 2021

The University of Washington’s Department of History, like the majority of History departments across the country, trains its graduate students as specialists in specific geographically-defined fields. For instance, we were admitted to the program not so much as “History” students but as an historian of Britain and the British Empire (Adrian) and as an historian of Southeast Asia and Latin America (Jorge). As transnational historians, we embarked on our Reaching New Publics fellowship with the thought that, on reaching the end of our program, we might apply to community colleges as specialists in world history and other non-U.S. regional courses. One of our main goals, then, was to learn more about the landscape of world history teaching in access-based institutions.

However, as we met with mentors in the history and humanities departments of Seattle Central, North Seattle, and Centralia Colleges during autumn 2019 and winter 2020, we quickly learned that historians at these colleges are asked to teach U.S. history much more frequently than they teach histories of other regions. Several professors with whom we spoke surmised that this trend was influenced in part by the Running Start program—a system through which Washington State high school students can dual-enroll in community college courses for both high school and 4-year transfer credit—which encourages students to take U.S. history courses rather than world and non-U.S. regional histories. Given that the total number of Running Start students has increased by 56% in the last decade and continues to grow, this regionalizing effect may become even more pronounced.[1]

We wondered, however, to what extent these perceptions reflect the reality across Washington state, as evidenced by the data on the number and regional focus of history courses offered at access-based institutions. We also wanted to draw more informed conclusions about how History departments are, or are not, preparing their graduate students for the reality of teaching outside 4-year research institutions. To answer these questions, we collected information from the 34 community and technical colleges in Washington state, taking note of both the courses that appear in their catalogues and the classes that were offered during the 2019-2020 academic year.[2] We then grouped these courses into two geographic categories: U.S. history and non-U.S. history.[3] We omitted methodological classes and classes with a geographic scope that could not be determined. While the move to online classes in the spring and summer may have skewed data in...

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Meshell Sturgis, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Communication and 2019 Mellon Summer Fellow for Public Projects in the Humanities, was selected as a 2021 recipient for the prestigious K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award by AAC&U. This award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education and who are committed to academic innovation in the areas of equity, community engagement, and teaching and learning. Sturgis will be presented with the award as part of the virtual 2021 Annual Meeting, which will take place from January 20-23. The AAC&U Annual Meeting also includes two UW panels: “Interrupting Privilege: Building Anti-Racist Spaces of Dialogue and Critique in the Classroom and in the Community” and “International Education: Reciprocity and Equity in a Post-Pandemic World.”

Judy Howard and Míċeál Vaughan both know that retiring from academia is a fraught enterprise: “While retirement is typically a life-changing event for almost everyone, for faculty especially it raises fundamental questions about what it means to be a professor and how one’s identity and purpose are defined by more than the specific demands of a ‘job’.”

Having both retired from the UW—Howard from Sociology and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies in 2017 and Vaughan from Comparative Literature and English in 2015—the two emeritus professors launched the Faculty Retirement Seminar through the Simpson Center to provide faculty with a structured setting in which to reflect on retirement with UW colleagues, and to provide some space and time to think and talk broadly about retirement in a collegial environment.

In Winter 2019, Howard and Vaughan assembled a group of ten faculty members from across the College of Arts & Sciences’ four divisions including retired professors Carolyn Allen (English), Joseph Butwin (English), Lucy Jarosz (Geography), Mark Jenkins (Drama), and their not-yet-retired colleagues Paul Aoki (Language Learning Center / Linguistics), George Behlmer (History), Richard Olmstead (Biology), and Mary Pat Wenderoth (Biology). While the size of the group allowed for intimate discussions around topics ranging from finding purpose in one’s post-career life to issues of ageism and the realities of aging and mortality, the seminar members’ experiences pointed to a wide range of possibilities, interest, and concerns to life in retirement. While some faculty desire to continue engaging in research or writing—whether starting new projects or concluding old ones—others are interested in becoming more actively engaged with local, state, or national and international associations and meetings, both in their professional fields or beyond. Some intend to continue mentoring students and junior colleagues. Yet others welcome retirement as marking a clear end to their faculty roles and look forward to a new life in retirement. Finally, many struggle to identify exactly what they hope to do in retirement.

For that reason, Howard and Vaughan designed this seminar to reflect on people’s experiences, legacies, and plans, whether well-formed or inchoate. Over the course of Winter 2020, the group met each Tuesday for two hours. Each seminar session focused on a pre-selected topic with recommended readings, including Diana Athill’s 2008 memoir Somewhere Towards the End;  Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (2014); Martha Nussbaum and Saul Levmore’s Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, and Regret (2017); and the 2014 edited collection Faculty Retirement: Best Practices for Navigating the Transition. Howard and Vaughan reported that they structured the seminar “to provide a...

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Come join our tri-campus online writing group for trans faculty, staff, and graduate students who work across the University of Washington system as part of the Imagining Trans Futures crossdisciplinary research group, funded by the Simpson Center. Whether you’re working on your book, a journal article, dissertation, or a creative project, this group will provide community and accountability for trans scholars in the UW system. All trans scholars are welcome to join, no matter their disciplinary background.

The Imagining Trans Futures crossdisciplinary research group works to support trans scholars in their research and writing and to bring trans studies scholars to the UW community through a speaker series open to the public. The aim of this group is to support trans academics around one of the most challenging parts of academic work--writing and publishing their research. We’ll gather for a two-hour monthly session online during the 2020-2021 academic year (beginning in November 2020, in conjunction with our visiting guest) where we’ll set research goals, write together, and support one another. Connected to the speaker series, the group will also meet with our visiting speakers once a quarter to discuss their experiences in academic and creative publishing as well as navigating academia as trans scholars. Through our Simpson Center funding, we can provide copies of the books from upcoming speakers in the Imagining Trans Futures speaker series for at least the first five writing group members to use in our group discussions. Each meeting will have a dedicated portion of time for working and writing together, so you can make consistent progress on your project. Meeting times for the writing group will be based on the availability of participants.

If you are interested in participating, please fill out this form by October 15.

The next event will feature Francisco J. Galarte on Tuesday, January 26, 2021, 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Neil Simpkins ( or Ching-In Chen (

The Simpson Center for the Humanities is pleased to announce that Cristian Capotescu has joined the Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Humanitarianisms: Migrations and Care through the Global South as the postdoctoral fellow for 2020-21. Led by Arzoo Osanloo (Law, Societies & Justice) and Cabeiri Robinson (Jackson School of International Studies), Humanitarianisms seeks to decolonize the rhetoric and understanding of humanitarianism by examining the histories of forced migration and practices of humanitarian care for forced migrants, including both ‘conventional’ and ‘humanitarian refugees’, that developed outside of Europe and North America.

Cristian is an interdisciplinary historian of the global twentieth century with research interests in disaster studies, migration, economic life, humanitarianism, and social history. Cristian earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan in 2020. His current book project is based on his dissertation Giving in the Time of Socialism: Economic Life, Humanitarianism, and Mobility in the Global Postwar. His work traces how natural disasters, economic austerity, and refugee movements in the socialist bloc became transformative moments of private solidarity in Ceausescu’s Romania between 1970-1989. Cristian’s dissertation examines through the lens of historical ethnography clandestine forms of welfare provisioning organized by social workers, feminist activists, diasporic communities, and many other private volunteers in East-Central Europe. Drawing on numerous official archives and oral histories from five countries, his work expands the subjects and sites that count in the emergent literature on humanitarianism. His book project recuperates how the idea of humanity became a bedrock in the social lives of ordinary people after 1945, repeatedly moving such seemingly peripheral places as Romania from the margins of the Cold War to the center of the imageries and ethical aspirations of a broader international public. Cristian’s most recent journal article “Migrants into Humanitarians: Ethnic Solidarity and Private Aid-Giving during Romania’s Historic Flood of 1970” appeared in East European Politics and Societies

Cristian also leads a research team of a population health equity grant funded by the University of Washington’s Population Health Initiative. In collaboration with the Metropolitan Area Action Committee on Anti-Poverty, this interdisciplinary project studies the efficacy and challenges of distance learning for low-income students of color in the San Diego area...

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This year's Katz line-up features three speakers whose lectures will focus on everything from prison abolition and the influence of Silicon Valley on American Politics to African filmmaking and aesthetics. Mark your calendars and join us online for these incredible talks. All Katz Lectures are free and open to the public. 

Abderrahmane Sissako (Filmmaker)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Abderrahmane Sissako is a Mauritanian-born Malian film director and producer. His film Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono) was screened at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival official selection under Un Certain Regard, winning the FIPRESCI Prize. His 2007 film Bamako received much attention. Sissako's themes include globalisation, exile and the displacement of people. His 2014 film Timbuktu was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Margaret O'Mara (UW, History)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Margaret O'Mara is the Howard & Frances Keller Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington and a contributing opinion writer at The New York Times. She writes and teaches about the growth of the high-tech economy, the history of U.S. politics, and the connections between the two.

O'Mara is the author of Cities of Knowledge (Princeton, 2005), Pivotal Tuesdays (Penn Press, 2015), and The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America (Penguin Press, 2019). She is a coauthor, with David Kennedy and Lizabeth Cohen, of forthcoming editions of a widely used United States history college textbook, The American Pageant (Cengage). In addition to her opinion pieces in The New York Times, her writing also has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Bloomberg Businessweek, Foreign Policy, the American Prospect, and Pacific Standard.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (The Graduate Center, CUNY, Geography)

Thursday, February 25, 2021...

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This year’s Fall Funding Round opens on October 5. Funding covers the term July 2021-June 2022. The deadline for all Fall Funding Round applications is Friday, November 6.

This fall, the Simpson Center will accept applications for the following funding categories (please note that, while the Simpson Center accepts grant application in both the fall and spring quarters, some of these categories are only open in the fall round):


  • Summer Digital Humanities Fellowships support four faculty and four doctoral students pursuing research projects that use digital technologies in innovative and intensive ways and/or explore the historical, social, aesthetic, and cross-cultural implications of digital cultures. We have expanded our call for proposals to include projects focused on digital humanities pedagogy. We are interested in projects that address the goal of incorporating digital humanities skills and methods into graduate and undergraduate education. *Fall submission only
  • Barclay Simpson Scholars in Public Summer Fellowships – these new fellowships provide summer support for doctoral students in the humanities, broadly speaking, to pursue public-facing projects in their areas of study and practice. Collaborative projects are encouraged. The fellowship carries an award of $6000, with no benefits or tuition.
  • Society of Scholars Research Fellowships – The Society of Scholars is an intellectual community in which eight faculty and three doctoral students from across disciplines in the humanities and interpretive social sciences contribute to and learn from one another’s work in bi-weekly meetings throughout the academic year. *Fall submission only
  • Summer Society of Scholars Research Fellowships – doctoral students who submit applications during the fall 2020 funding round to the Society of Scholars Research Fellowship category will also be considered for a separate dissertation fellowship cohort to be convened in the summer of 2021. Applicants do not need to provide any additional materials to be considered for this opportunity.

Collaborative projects:

  • Collaboration Studio Grants furnish UW faculty groups with summer salary support to catalyze, deepen, or reconfigure crossdisciplinary research and facilitate publication. *Fall submission only
  • Colloquia and Conferences range from speaker series to international research or working conferences, and are selected for support based on their crossdisciplinary and interdisciplinary focus.
  • Video Conferences & Colloquia (a new funding category) will support crossdisciplinary and interdisciplinary symposia, colloquia, and conferences of...
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blurred print of a flattened global map in abstract colors

Global Literatures & Global Literacies: Teaching Texts, Old and New

UW, Seattle, April 30, 2021

Proposals were due December 1, 2020. This program is no longer accepting new proposals.

This symposium will advance the ongoing creation of a new literature major at UW in Global Literary Studies (GLITS). The planned meeting has two main goals. One is to provide an occasion for all of us at UW to get a better sense of what literature classes are currently being taught on our campus and what kinds of new courses faculty are developing or envisioning for the future. Specifically, the focus will be on undergraduate courses that look beyond national linguistic boundaries. Our emphasis on “global” literary studies implies a trans-regional, trans-historical, and/or trans-cultural orientation. We seek to be inclusive of non-metropolitan, minority languages and literatures, as well as Indigenous perspectives. Please note that our priorities also include the teaching of languages or writing in connection with the teaching of literature. The other goal of the symposium is to create an opportunity for networking and pedagogical cooperation among faculty members. Instructors in various departments and programs who teach literature may only rarely have a chance to interact with one another, and this meeting can bring them together to discuss shared interests. All of the participants will receive a modest monetary compensation for their involvement.

The first part of the meeting will be dedicated to two lightning sessions. Each will feature five 5-minute presentations in which faculty members will introduce literature classes they already teach or are proposing to teach in 2021-2023. Each of the two sessions will last 45-minutes and will allow 15 minutes for Q&A. The main intended audience, aside from all of us teaching literature, is undergraduates who may be interested or may become interested in taking literature classes or even doing a major or minor in any of our departments or programs.

The second part of the conference will be dedicated to poster sessions. Here, colleagues who did not present in the first two panels will have a chance to present their ideas on pedagogical purposes and methods. Members of the audience will be free to move around from one site to another, ask questions, and exchange thoughts on teaching. This part of the conference is intended to foster collaborative work. Poster-session participants are encouraged to tackle topics such as: identifying learning goals for literary studies; brainstorming a capstone seminar for the GLITS major; imagining possible internships and service learning for literature students. We welcome presentations on other issues suggested by individuals or groups of faculty.

The conference is...

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By Kaelie Giffel and Caitlin Postal

In the midst of a global pandemic, it can be tempting to forget that the oft-hailed return to “normal,” as Francis Eanes and Eleni Schirmer argue in their recent essay, would mean, in the context of higher education, the resumption of “all kinds of harms: spiking debt, precarious work, and social protections that fall somewhere between elusive and imaginary.” This is true for the full ecology of workers on college campuses: adjunct and assistant professors; graduate students; undergraduate student employees; and facilities, maintenance, and food service workers—in sum, all who make life on college campuses function. Every aspect of working life has been transformed by this moment. And we must reckon with the reality that the university is not organized for the benefit of the vast majority of people who move through and adjacent to it. 

In this post, we explore an emerging structure of feeling amid COVID-19 around university power structures that has been insufficiently examined. Let us be frank: the structure of feeling which we term “crisis pedagogy” begins with anger, exhaustion, and helplessness, and it predates COVID-19. Yet the inequities which undergird neoliberal education have produced, as Simon Torracinta describes it, “a genuine, albeit incipient militancy, and even a tentative sense of solidarity, across the ranks of academia.” The feelings which we embody, as graduate students, and which we discuss in extensive conversation with others, register the damage enacted by individualist paradigms prevalent in our culture—in academia, in particular. We see (or at least hope) that workers within the university are motivated by these feelings to act in our collective, rather than individual, interests. Different forms of mutual aid and support are emerging between teachers and students, advisors and advisees, which indicate a sense of collective responsibility. In our view, the return to normal—per usual prizing of individual research above all, back to banking models of education, lack of accountability to local communities—would be a return to the harms that we believe are better left behind.

We do not want to seem overly sanguine. On the one hand, the rapid shift to online learning has foreclosed a slow consideration of how technology can (or should) be integrated into our classrooms. If we are to learn to use digital tools quickly, how can we question them? This elision of critical thinking around the adaptation of technology is exacerbated in certain institutional positions—that of graduate student workers, for instance. We have had to swiftly adapt to the conditions of our employment in crafting remote classes and developing online versions of community workshops....

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