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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Scholars at Work

By Denise Grollmus 

When the organizers of the Genomics Salon were busy planning their Spring 2020 events, there were rumblings about Covid-19, but a lockdown still seemed unlikely. Soon, however, Michael Goldberg, a doctoral candidate in Genome Sciences, found himself and his Genomics Salon co-organizers scrambling to move their screenings of the Netflix documentary, Unnatural Selection, online.

In fact, the event couldn’t have gone better. With help from the Google Chrome extension, Netflix Party, over 20 attendees were not only able to discuss the film as they watched it “together apart,” but they were also treated to a surprise Q&A with special guests: the film’s directors, Leeor Kaufman and Joe Egender.

Here, I talk to Goldberg about how the Genomics Salon hooked up with the documentary’s makers, as well as the group’s larger discussion about citizen scientists in the age of Covid-19 and the larger goals of the Graduate Research Cluster, which has received Simpson Center support for the past four years. 

How did this relationship between the Genomic Salon and Unnatural Selection come about?

It was really ad hoc. We have a number of different social media outlets that we use to advertise our events. One of the big ones is our Twitter account. I had posted a tweet about our screening of Unnatural Selection when one of the director’s DMed me and asked if they could get involved, which was pretty remarkable, and this was several hours before the event. I led the directors to one of my co-organizers, Jolie Carlisle, who was co-running the event with fellow Genome Sciences PhD student Sayeh Gorjifard. The directors and student organizers ended up running a question and answer session after the screening of the first episode of the documentary, which was incredible. They talked primarily about the process of directing the documentary, particularly about their experience working with both academics and non-academic scientists to craft narratives, but in addition about their takes on citizen science movements with regards to the response to Covid-19.

What do you mean by “citizen science movements?” And how do these movements relate to both the documentary and Covid-19?

Unnatural Selection is a documentary about a number of different things, but largely focuses on the idea of using genomics technologies to alter the human experience by improving health or by...

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The Simpson Center for the Humanities is pleased to announce our collaborative project funding awards for 2020-2021 after receiving many strong proposals from University of Washington faculty and graduate students.

The Simpson Center Executive Board makes two rounds of award decisions during each academic year. In the fall, the board will review proposals for research fellowships, conferences, and publicly-engaged collaborative projects. Read about our funding opportunities and check back for funding round dates, instructions, and deadlines.

Congratulations to our award recipients and our warm thanks to all who applied.

Colloquia, Conferences, and Symposia

Curating in Conversation

Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse (Assistant Professor, School of Art + Art History + Design)

The Bill Holm Center at the Burke Museum will host a series of lectures and programs to increase public understanding around the complexities and ethics involved in the promotion and exhibition of both contemporary and historic Native art.

Transcultural Approaches to Modern Europe

Jason Groves (Assistant Professor, Germanics), S. Kye Terrasi (Senior Lecturer, Germanics), Olivia Gunn (Assistant Professor, Scandinavian Studies), Rich Watts (Associate Professor, French & Italian Studies)

A speaker series focused on race, identity, colonialism, and migration within a broad European context.

Retirement Seminar for Faculty

Judith A. Howard (Professor Emerita, Sociology) and Míċeál F. Vaughan (Professor Emeritus, English)

A quarter-long weekly seminar involving a cohort of faculty who are recently retired or transitioning to retirement and are examining the challenges and opportunities of retiring from the University of Washington. 

Bugs and Beasts Before the Law

Mita Mahato (Associate Curator of Youth and Public Programs, Henry Art Gallery), Carolyn Pinedo-Turnovsky (Associate Professor, American Ethnic Studies), Nina Bozicnik (Associate Curator, Henry Art Gallery) Dan Berger (Associate Professor, IAS, UW Bothell), Dan Paz (Lecturer, Comparative History of Ideas)

The Henry Art Gallery will present "Bugs and Beasts Before the Law," an essay film by the artist duo Bambitchell that explores the history and legacy of “animal trials,” in which non-human animals and inanimate objects were put on trial for various offenses. The Henry will also host an interdisciplinary colloquium in conversation with this work.

Conference on the History of the English Language

Colette Moore  (Associate Professor, English)

The history of the...

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In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and police brutality, the Simpson Center for the Humanities has compiled a list of videos, websites, articles, books, research clusters, and other resources from Simpson Center-affiliated scholars. The work—often public-facing work done in collaboration with community groups—is dedicated to historicizing, theorizing, contextualizing, and dismantling systemic racism. We hope it will enable more members of the UW community and beyond to deepen their understanding of and involvement in anti-racist movements.

Black Arts

Led by UW Assistant Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Kemi Adeyemi, The Black Embodiments Studio is an arts writing incubator and public lecture series dedicated to dynamic expressions of blackness in contemporary art. Read more about The Black Embodiments studio and sign up for their newsletter, A Dose of Black Art.

Led by multidisciplinary artist, writer, curator, and UW Bothell Cultural Studies graduate student Berette Macaulay, The Black Cinema Collective is a Seattle-based group of artists and scholars who examine and celebrate works of African and African diasporic filmmakers through programmed screenings and community discussions.

Local Communities

Since 2016, UW Professor Ralina Joseph (Communication) has been leading Interrupting Privilege, an intergenerational, skills-building, anti-racism space of dialogue and critique. Now based at Seattle’s Black community hub, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), Interrupting Privilege also has a blog where you can read powerful posts by participants. You can also...

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By Denise Grollmus

The last time I spoke with UW Professor of Communication Ralina Joseph, she had been recently awarded an inaugural Mellon/ACLS Scholars & Society fellowship for her work with Interrupting Privilege, an intergenerational, skills-building, anti-racism space of dialogue and critique that argues that everyday people can work together across generations and race to combat racism with the support of youth leadership, commitment to critique-in-action, spaces to share and hear racial hurt, and careful training modules. After running the program for two years on the UW campus with UW students, faculty, staff, and alumni, Joseph decided to move the program to Seattle’s Black community hub, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), where the class now includes the voices and perspectives of community members, alongside Garfield high school and Seattle Central College students of color, as well as UW graduate students.

Since the move to NAAM, Covid-19 has not only made in-person meetings of Interrupting Privilege impossible, but it has also amplified and laid bare systemic racism and racial inequality, while giving rise to new forms of microaggressions online. A week before the country erupted in protests over the killing of George Floyd and other black men and women, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, by the police and white vigilantes, I checked in with Joseph to see how Interrupting Privilege was going in terms of moving online and in the context of America’s two deadliest diseases: racism and Covid-19.

How have things with Interrupting Privilege been going in light of the lockdown?

It’s going. Of course, as you know, we pivoted this year. We were at the Northwest African American Museum. We kept much of the same curriculum as previous years, but we shifted in different ways. For example, we still had a session on language and power, but we made it relevant for our all-black community session. The session on language and power started off the same, but then it quickly went to a discussion of the n-word and intraracial users of the n-word. For that meeting, I assigned a podcast on the history of the n-word that everyone listened to in advance, and then we ended off the session with some sociometric exercises where people registered their comfort and discomfort in using the word with their body positions in the room.

Those sessions were great. And then we have this wonderful group of graduate students from Communication,...

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By Jesús Hidalgo

As part of the Translation Studies Hub’s team-taught Translation Studies Across the Disciplines graduate seminar, Professor Brian Baer offered a talk titled “Current Trends in Translation Studies” on May 1st.

Baer—a professor of Russian and Translation Studies at Kent State University who has taught Translation Studies courses for twenty years and is currently the President of the American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association—was originally scheduled to be on campus April 30th and May 1st. The visit, aimed to present his recent scholarship in Translation and Sexuality Studies and work with the Hub on the development of a graduate certificate in Translation Studies, had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Baer's talk was offered via Zoom to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the seminar, and had three parts. In the first section, Baer focused on translation studies pedagogy and the challenges involved. In the second part, he explained the concept of polysemy, i.e. the multiple meanings of a word, and how it complicates the decision-making process and creativity of a translation project. Finally, following literary critic George Steiner’s ideas on translation, Baer proposed that, “meaning is constructed in the act of interpretation; it does not exist somehow outside language or before it is subjected to interpretation.” In that sense, he argued that both the reception context and the production context are key to understanding the translation process.

For Baer, translation is, in fact, a complex decision-making process, since translators can use not one but multiple solutions in their daily practice. “I think we’re actually trying to be ‘faithful’,” he told the virtual audience. “It’s what constitutes faithfulness, or how we conceptualize that faithfulness what distinguishes translation from other forms of writing, such as adaptation and, of course, original writing.”

According to the Kent State University professor, translation fidelity should not be connected to the idea of literalness (translating a text word by word verbatim); instead, it should be linked with the idea that translators attempt to communicate ideas effectively from one language into another. To do so, they have to interpret what is relevant in a text by making the most out of their translator competence.

One piece of advice Baer gives to his own students and that he shared with the attendees of his talk is that one should demystify translation theory. “Think of it as just the way people conceptualize the task of translation that transcends any one specific translation project,” Baer said. “If we think about theory that way, then we can design our theoretical support in ways that directly meet the needs of the students to guide their decision making.”

A broader audience had the opportunity to talk with Baer following a Q&A with the students taking the...

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#UWtranslators is a series of interviews with translators by the UW Translation Studies Hub.

By Jesús Hidalgo

Annegret Oehme is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanics and affiliate professor with the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. Her most recent publication is a short-form monograph that explores the construction of female agency in German and Yiddish Arthurian stories about Gawein’s son (‘He Should Have Listened to His Wife’, de Gruyter, 2020).

Tell us about your research in the Department of Germanics.

My research interests include medieval and early modern German and Yiddish literature, and pre-modern cultural transfers within a German-Jewish context as well. I have published on old Yiddish literature, early modern marriage treatises, and most recently on a German graphic novel.

A lot of my recent projects were related to a German-Yiddish story tradition around an Arthurian knight called Wigalois / Viduvilt, respectively. He is the son of the better-known Sir Gawein. In that context, I have dealt with translations, transliterations –and, sometimes, texts that present a hybrid form– a lot, in addition to ideas of translating words into images and vice versa, a topic that is particularly relevant for the illuminated medieval manuscripts I have been working with.

How do you use Translation Studies in your classes?

I’m teaching mostly classes on medieval literature, sociolinguistics, and a variety of German language classes for the Department of Germanics, at both undergraduate and graduate level. Naturally, translation is a big topic when it comes to the literature I assign. Although graduate students are not required to know Middle High German for my class, I bring in some untranslated material to give them an idea of the original tone, and the relation between medieval and modern German.

In the linguistics classes, students can often re-create relations among the Germanic languages by looking at different translations of texts such as the Lord’s Prayer, which was translated early on in many languages to boost Christian missionizing efforts as one part of geo-political expansion.

A reoccurring topic in my classes is untranslatability and the limitations that arise from accessing material through translations. A concrete daily example is one word that students thoroughly enjoy and often remember: verschlimmbessern. The word comes originally from the field of manuscript preservation, and means that in an attempt of preserving a severed artifact, it gets ruined rather than improved, often with the sad result of parts of a text being rendered illegible. The word perfectly captures the universal feeling that occasionally we make something worse when attempting to improve it!

How did you become...

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A screenshot of presenters from the May 15 online workshop

On May 15, Feminist Media Histories: An International Journal marked its move to the University of Washington with an online workshop on affect attended by more than 200 people from around the world. Initially designed as a two-day celebration of the journal's transition to Seattle, where it will now be housed at the Simpson Center for the Humanities, this workshop, organized by the new editor-in-chief, Professor Jennifer M. Bean, was moved online.

The four-hour workshop featured presentations by seven speakers, including Paula Amad (University of Iowa), Ann Cvetkovich (Carleton University), Maggie Hennefeld (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), Amber Jamilla Musser (Georgetown University), Sandra Soto (University of Arizona), Zhen Zhang (New York University), and Simpson Center Director Kathy Woodward (University of Washington). Each presenter considered how the term “affect,” and its cognates, enables us to think, describe, name, or feel feminist and queer media histories differently. Media objects discussed ranged from art installations to experimental videos, and from early cinema to African relics and photographic memoirs.

The workshop will inform a special issue of Feminist Media Histories (FMH 7.2). The journal publishes original research, oral histories, primary documents, conference reports, and archival news on radio, television, film, video, digital technologies, and other media across a range of historical periods and global contexts. Inter-medial and trans-national in its approach, Feminist Media Histories examines the historical role gender has played in varied media technologies, and documents women’s engagements with these media as audiences, users and consumers, creators and executives, critics, writers and theorists, technicians and laborers, educators, activists, and librarians.


Welcome to Virtual Pedagogies, a regular series in which we ask UW faculty to share their experiences with a particular aspect of teaching online. While there have been a lot of resources that walk through the technicalities of remote teaching, we were hoping to create a space where faculty can share pedagogical approaches. As we’ve all learned quite quickly, what worked in the classroom, doesn’t necessarily work in Zoom.

For this installment, we asked Simpson Center-affiliated scholars how they were ensuring equity and access in their online classrooms. Here’s how they answered:

Alan Michael Weatherford, Former Mellon Summer Fellow in Public Scholarship, PhD Candidate in Cinema & Media Studies:

In order to address issues of power and difference, I utilize metacognition primarily. I use certain activities to situate my students’ individual knowledges, and then have them assess the power dynamics of their having or not having had access to that knowledge. Before teaching a specific topic, I ask students to account for: 1) what they already know; 2) what they don’t know; and, 3) where they got their information from. You can do this in a variety of ways: homework before class, a three-minute reflective write up, small-groups, or a Q&A poll divided up by question. I then do small-group discussions on our access to those knowledges and reflect on if those knowledges were dominant or shut out.

In order to mitigate differential access to my class, I do a few solid things. Generally speaking, I found ways to make sure my students did not have to pay for any of their materials for the course. This may take some planning beforehand; working with a librarian is key. Secondly, Powerpoint Version 16 (maybe even earlier) allows for real-time transcription as you talk and move through your slides. This is ideal for when you’re screen-sharing over zoom.

Joanne Woiak, Co-organizer of Exploring the Fault Lines in Disability Studies, Disability Studies Lecturer, along with "Introduction to Disability Studies" Teaching Assistants Shixin Huang (JSIS PhD Candidate) and Ronnie Thibault (iPhD Candidate): 

In disability studies (DS), course content and pedagogy are inseparable. Centering disability as a lived experience and framework for analysis involves attending to the role of disability in the classroom. Many of the methods we typically use to improve accessibility for disabled students also support all of our students. This was true to an even greater extent when our 90-student Introduction to DS course went online. Students rotate as official note-takers for a day, creating documentation of lecture details and discussion topics that everyone can use; extensions and other modifications...

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By Rachel Arteaga

In recent weeks, writers, scholars, and other readers have turned to their shelves, pulling down and dusting off works like Albert Camus’s The Plague (1947) and Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), or turning to the relevant sections of the diary of Samuel Pepys, who survived the plague of 1665, a calamity that shuttered London and felled thousands of its residents. Our minds have gone immediately to the citations filed under the many names for this particular calamity: plague, pandemic, outbreak, contagion. We have searched these texts for their insights, and talked with friends and colleagues about how we might best apply that knowledge to the situation we now face. “The only means of fighting a plague is common decency,” Camus writes, and we take note.

Literature is the place where humanity keeps its reference points for events that we cannot individually imagine, because they are beyond our own personal experience. Most of us, in the United States, have not survived a plague—though there are lessons we can draw from listening to those who have. So we turn first to depictions of plague, to see how novel diseases move not only through bodies but also through cities and societies, through families and communities, through registers of understanding, which include the emotions. We want to know: what does a pandemic do? How does it strike, and how does it inflict damage? How can we mitigate its harm, overcome its frightening power over our lives, and rebuild our worlds—or build new ones in its wake?

We are right to...

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The Columbus Dispatch photo of an anti-social-distancing protest in Ohio. (Joshua A. Bickel/AP)

By Denise Grollmus

The last time I spoke with English Professor Eva Cherniavsky was in October, when we were filming the “Neoliberalism” video for Keywords, in which she discussed how zombie apocalypse narratives offer us a lens through which to think about the logic of neoliberalism. Since then, we’ve found ourselves in a pandemic that many are comparing to their favorite zombie films, comics, and novels.

Listening to Cherniavsky’s prescient observations about how zombie apocalypse narratives reflect and refract the logic of neoliberalism, I was struck by how much they resonated with our current moment. She kindly agreed to jump on Zoom and chat a bit further about how her work might help us think through the peril, politics, and possibilities of Covid-19.

A lot of people have been talking about the pandemic in relation to zombie apocalypse narratives, which is something you’ve been thinking and writing about for two decades now. How have you been thinking about our current moment in relation to the work you’ve done?  

It’s really been making me think about the different iterations of zombie narratives in the genre. There is a really bleak one, where the zombie apocalypse happens, the dead rise, civilization collapses and yet it turns out that the collapse of civilization delivers us right back into a world of hyperbolic survivalist individualism. The collapse of organized social order just sort of catapults into a neoliberal nightmare of every man for himself. Jane Eliot has written about this in really interesting ways, she calls it the microeconomic mode: my survival depends on your demise. It’s always about the cost-benefit analysis. It's about hoarding. It's about necropower. That’s one version of the zombie apocalypse narrative that, in my darker moments these past few weeks, I've thought about. 

But even as the economy shuts down, here we are in this moment where the air is breathable again. We actually walk in a quiet city breathing breathable air. There are these pastoral interludes at the same time that the shutdown seems to have exacerbated that sort of survivalist mode. I heard Arundhati Roy interviewed and she talked about the crisis as a portal, a moment of transformation that opens this field of possibilities.

Both of these versions are true. What I think is so affectively charged about the present moment and feels so profoundly distracting—the reason I can't turn off my news feed, I can't look away...

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