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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Scholars at Work

Professor Heidi Pauwels (Asian Languages & Literature) was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to work on her book, The Voice of India’s 18th-Century Mona Lisa: Songs by Rasik Bihari of Kishangarh. Pauwel’s project explores the poetry of an 18th-century woman known as Bani-thani or Rasik Bihari, who was a court performer and favorite of the Indian ruler Savant Singh (1699–1764) of Kishangarh.

In 2017, Pauwels led a Simpson Center funded symposium, Memory Construction and Emotion in India, Past and Present, that examined how Hindu, Muslim, and Jain cultural self-understandings were shaped in India’s past and how that relates to the present. That same year, Pauwel published Mobilizing Krishna’s World: The Writings of Prince Sāvant Singh of Kishangarh (University of Washington Press), which discusses the political and religious upheaval of sixteenth and eighteenth century northern India through the life, devotional poetry, and paintings of Savant Singh, the Rajput prince unseated by his younger brother. 

The NEH announced this round's grant winners on January 14. The federal organization awarded $30.9 million in grants to support 188 humanities projects in 45 states and the District of Columbia. An additional $48 million was also awarded to fund 55 state, territorial, and jurisdictional humanities councils, which serve local communities through a range of state-focused humanities discussion and educational outreach programs. You can read more about this year's awards and see a full list of winners here.

Congrats, Heidi!

Congratulations to UW Professor Naomi Sokoloff (NELC/Comparative Literature), who, along with Washington University in St. Louis Professor Nancy Berg (Hebrew/Comparative Literature), won a 2019 National Jewish Book Award for their co-edited collection, What We Talk about When We Talk about Hebrew (University of Washington Press).

The volume gathers twelve essays, chiefly from the May 2016 UW conference Hebrew and the Humanities: Present Tense, which was organized by Prof. Sokoloff and the UW’s Dr. Hannah Pressman, along with Prof. Berg, in conjunction with the 2016 Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures and with the support of the Simpson Center. Like the book, the conference explored the state of Hebrew language studies in contemporary America and beyond. Keynote lectures were delivered by Dara Horn and Ilan Stavans, who both contributed to the collection (along with Dr. Pressman) and whose talks you can view here.  

Inaugurated in 1950, the National Jewish Book Awards is the longest-running North American awards program of its kind. The Awards are intended to recognize authors, and encourage reading, of outstanding English-language books of Jewish interest. Past notable win­ners include Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt, Bernard Mala­mud, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Jonathan Safran Foer, Deb­o­rah Dash Moore, and Sandy Eisen­berg Sasso.

Sokoloff and Berg will be honored on March 17 at an awards dinner and ceremony in Manhattan, New York. Next year, Sokoloff, along with UW Professors Gary Handwerk (English/CHID) and Gordana Crnkovic (Slavic) will also be leading Global Literary Studies, a Simpson Center funded project that will work towards developing a new Global Literary Studies major at the UW.

By Jesús Hidalgo

As part of its fall events featuring researchers, activists, and artists whose practices and work are connected to translation, the Translation Studies Hub hosted a two-part talk on Nov. 22, 2019. Profs. José Alaniz (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures) and Jason Groves (Department of Germanics) gave presentations on translating Russian comics into English and the applicability of the term “weak” in the Translation Studies field, respectively.

Prof. Alaniz spoke about his experiences as a translator of Russian comics, and mainly about his current project: translating Lena Uzhinova’s 2014 graphic memoir My Sex. He described the book as the representation of Uzhinova’ sexual experience as she grew up as part of the last Soviet generation; a generation that had to deal with inadequate sexual education, child abuse, and rape culture.

After speaking about his other translation work (including being a consultant for an exhibit about Russian comics in the U.S.), the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures professor also used some examples from Japanese manga, Conan the Barbarian, and Mandrake to talk about some of the visual challenges translating comics poses. Some of these challenges, he said, are usually related to how panels and vignettes are contextualized, how the composition of speech balloons is formatted, and the adaptation of speech balloons for a new audience. He is facing similar challenges while translating Uzhinova’s memoir.

In the second part of the talk, Prof. Groves spoke about some of his past translation past translation work in both the U.S. and Germany. including translating bureaucratic events, writing the captions for a punk film, and working on a map about immigration in Germany.

He used these experiences to introduce the term “weak translation,” a term he adopted from other fields, such as “weak theory” and “weak environmentalism,” for example. The latter has been used to refer to small-scale actions and ideas, low-intensity affects and social ties, and the precariety of subjects.

The Department of Germanics professor said that the word “weak” in the Humanities is originally derogatory, but recently it has been recovered to push back against its opposite: the affective value of “strong.”

In that sense, Prof. Groves says that “weak translation” is “non-normative, non-derogatory, evacuated of any ableist connotation. It marks the partial, the provisional, the leaky, in-promptu, the centrifugal, but it’s not ‘weak’ in the sense of deficient at all.”

To end his talk, Prof. Groves showed a few exercises he does in his undergraduate classes (including a translation of a poem in German using the voice assistant Cortana) to talk about the “weak” barriers of languages and what a “bad translation” would mean...

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A Look at the Simpson Center’s Next Generation Humanities PhD Special Initiative

By Rachel Arteaga

*You can also read this story over on Medium.*

In 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced a new program directed at change in doctoral education. The projects to be funded by Next Generation Humanities PhD grants would bring humanities PhD programs into alignment with a true diversity of possible career outcomes for their graduates, integrate the humanities more purposefully into the public sphere, and ultimately “transform what it means to be a humanities scholar.”

The program was, in part, a response to widely-circulated reports from major professional organizations, including the Modern Language Association Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature (2014). Indeed, “No More Plan B,” (2011), the American Historical Association’s summary statement on the academic job market for historians, had gained currency in the vocabulary of the academic humanities. When Next Generation Humanities PhD appeared, the profession was already in a moment of intense self-reflection, its focus cohering around a single question: what was the meaning and value of the humanities PhD?

The NEH announcement offered an opportunity to rigorously pursue that line of inquiry and sparked an exciting possibility for us at the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Usually, our mandate is to support crossdisciplinary research and inquiry in the humanities, meaning that the vast majority of the projects we support involve faculty from multiple departments. But doctoral education is almost always defined primarily by cultures within departments, not across them. So we took an unusual approach, resolving to directly support degree-granting departments in imagining the futures of their disciplines on their own terms. In February of 2016, we announced our own Next Generation Humanities PhD special initiative, inspired by the visionary leadership of then-NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams.

From 2016 to 2019, this special initiative supported eight projects involving ten doctoral degree granting departments and programs at UW, among them English, History, and Philosophy. Doctoral education in the humanities is unique in its capacity to prepare students to undertake projects of...

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This summer, the University of Washington was one of two schools, along with the University of Massachusetts, to host the pilot program of the Mellon Foundation-funded MLA Teaching Institute, aimed at strengthening the teaching of English at access-oriented institutions through collaboration. For one week in June, thirty-two participants—a mix of faculty members from access-oriented institutions and doctoral students at regional universities—met to discuss and develop pedagogical research projects that they’d conduct for the rest of summer and then present at the 2020 MLA Conference in Seattle. 

This week, they’ll do just that when they present the findings of their research on the MLA panel, “Research Projects from the MLA Reading-Writing Institute.” The panel will be held from 1:45 to 3 pm on Saturday, January 11 in Room 4C-2 of the Washington State Convention Center, where folks can also learn more about the Institute and how to apply to be part of next year’s cohort.

As the panelists prepare their presentations, we asked University of Washington-affiliated doctoral students to reflect on being part of the first MLA Teaching Institute cohort—both what they learned and what they’ll be sharing during the conference. Here’s what they said:  

Leah Rubinsky (Comparative Literature):

We talk, quite a bit, in my department and across campus about collaboration and interdisciplinarity, but rarely do we practice these things. Participating in the MLA Summer Teaching Institute in June gave me the wonderful opportunity to be part of a diverse and collaborative learning community made up of PhDs, graduate students, creative writers, professors and instructors, some working at community colleges, some working at four year institutions, all brought together to learn about and share strategies for teaching academic writing and reading. And this was, perhaps, the most memorable and refreshing part of the experience: the invitation to be part of a professional community of teachers talking about how we show up in classrooms, what we grapple with at access oriented institutions or four year colleges and how we define and teach critical college-level reading and writing skills. Along with this, it was also valuable to do the hands-on, experiential work that we did, including sharing and peer-reviewing our writing assignments, prompts and syllabi, and actually doing, in our group, some of the discussion-based assignments and activities that we have our own students do.

As I reflect on the Institute, I am so grateful to have been able to take part in it. Not only did it rekindle my love of writing, reading and the teaching of both, it also gave me a glimpse of how academia can be done differently. What possibilities open up if we look beyond ideas of hierarchy, gate-...

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

By Jesús Hidalgo

An active member of the UW Translation Studies Hub, Professor Cynthia Steele is a Professor Emerita of the Department of Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media, and former Chair of that department. She has taught courses on Literature of the Americas, Latin American cinema, world literature, and literary translation.

Tell us about your research in the Comp Lit Department.

I’ve been a critic of Latin American narrative for many years, primarily the Mexican novel. I published two books on Mexican narrative: Narrativa indigenista en los Estados Unidos y México (1985) and Politics, Gender and the Mexican Novel: Beyond the Pyramid (1992). Over the years I have published numerous articles on Mexican narrative and film and on the literature of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Beginning in the 1990s, I also began to translate both fiction and poetry. I published a translation of Inés Arredondo’s Underground River and Other Stories (1996) and of José Emilio Pacheco’s City of Memory and Other Poems (2001, with David Lauer). Also during the 1990s, I translated numerous short stories and poems for two special issues of TriQuarterly, one on Recent Mexican Literature and the other on Literature of Chiapas.

How did you become interested in the Translation Studies field?

My earliest translations were of Mexican writers who had become friends during my stays in Mexico City: Elena Poniatowska, José Emilio Pacheco, and Inés Arredondo. As time went by I found that, when I would read a Spanish text that I loved, I would feel the urge to translate it, and that I found the process very gratifying. I have also been motivated by wanting to make more wonderful works by Latin American and Spanish writers available to English readers.

How do you use Translation Studies in your undergraduate classes?

I once had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate practicum on translating from Spanish to English. Students worked in groups, translating short stories by Mexican women authors. It was a lot of fun! Also, on several occasions I have taught a graduate seminar on translation.

I was going to ask about that graduate seminar. Tell us about the CLIT511 class you taught in Winter 2017. What was the aim of the course?

At various points I have emphasized more or less translation theory in my seminars; on this occasion I focused primarily on the practice of translation. I had each student translate three poems and a short story from their source language to English, workshop the translations with the other members of the seminar, and then submit them to literary journals for publication.

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Little Women by Maira Kalman

by Laura Griffith

Fifty-six people got up on a Saturday morning to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The event was March Madness, hosted by the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Graduate Research Cluster and held in the Research Commons in Allen Library on November 23.

Members of the University of Washington community and the community at large gave lightning talks on a variety of subjects, including women’s clothing in the 1860s, Little Women and sustainability, the legacy of Little Women in China, Alcott’s assessment of Transcendentalism, and the stakes of being a woman artist in the nineteenth century.

Graduate Student Laura Griffith (English) and March Madness co-organizer, Laura Griffith, giving a lightning talkIn between panels of lightning talks, attendees visited tables displaying desserts baked from nineteenth-century recipes, reproduction clothing and artefacts in the style of the nineteenth century, art in the style of the nineteenth century (which was being painted on the spot by UW’s own Joey Xiaoyi), and the University Bookstore’s collection of books by and about Louisa May Alcott, among other things. Re-enactors from the Washington Civil War Association, at the University of Washington for the first time, were also there in full 1860s costume.

Finally, the event finished with a talk from Sandra Kroupa, the Rare Books Curator for UW Special Collections, followed by a trip downstairs to see the more than 150 books Sandra had displayed, including a first edition of Little Women. An endowment for the collection of works by nineteenth-century American writers has enabled Sandra to collect an impressive array of books by Alcott and her contemporaries. 

March Madness was a fun opportunity for fans and scholars to unite over their shared love of Little Women. Attendees could vote on their favorite of the four March sisters in the novel by putting money into jars bearing each character’s name. Donations went to the University District Food Bank in honor of the March sisters, who feed the hungry at the beginning of the novel. Participants also chatted about why it is that everyone likes Beth but she’s nobody’s favorite character, and argued over whether or not Jo should have married Professor Bhaer.

March Madness also provided a platform for scholars to share their work with an audience beyond the university, breaking down the invisible barriers that often separate academia from non-academic communities. This ensures that the insights and questions raised within university walls reach beyond them; it further ensures that the knowledge and concerns of the broader...

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In anticipation of winter break, we asked Simpson Center-affiliated scholars and staff what books they’re excited to dig into once the end-of-the-quarter frenzy has wound down. Here’s what they said:  

Rachel Arteaga, Assistant Director, Simpson Center:

"Last winter, I compulsively pre-ordered a hardcover book of essays and speeches. I couldn’t resist the title, and I knew that the author wouldn’t fail me. The book is The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison. A speech from 2005, included in the selections, has stayed with me. It’s called “Hard, True, and Lasting,” and in it Morrison explains that in her own writing, “in order to reveal what seems to me the hard and the true and the lasting things, I am drawn to describing people under duress, not in easy circumstances.” Since her passing in August, my gratitude for her unflinching work has only deepened, and I’ve returned to this collection again and again."

Michael Biggins, Affiliate Professor, Slavic Languages & Literature

"Over the holidays I’ll be reading Claudio Magris’s Trieste, un’identità di frontiera, published in 1982 and supposedly one of the first works about Trieste by an Italian author ever to make a serious effort at encompassing the broad totality of the city’s complex cultural heritage, including its very considerable and age-old Slovenian presence. 

I’ll also be reading 2018 Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk’s Primeval and Other Stories (Prawiek in inne czasy in Polish) in preparation for the January meeting of a local Central European book club that I helped organize and belong to, which we’ve dubbed Stories from the Heart of Europe. Anyone with an interest in Central European literature, or in a particular book that’s on our reading/discussion agenda, is more than welcome to join us.  Our schedule of meetings and authors/books up for discussion at each one are posted...

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In mid-November, the Simpson Center sent three of its past fellows in digital humanities and public scholarship to the National Humanities Conference in Honolulu, Hawai'i. Their panel, “Digital Public Humanities: Navigating Community and Identity in the 21st Century,” was designed for a broad professional audience in the humanities, including leadership of state humanities councils, scholarly societies, and advocacy organizations. Sessions at the conference ranged from presentations on measuring the impact of humanities programming to discussions of place-based education (with an emphasis on the islands of Hawai'i, American Samoa, Guåhan, and the Northern Mariana Islands, which jointly hosted the conference) to workshops on grant-writing for funding opportunities through the National Endowment for the Humanities. Below, our presenters—pictured above at the conference along with the Simpson Center's Assistant Director Rachel Arteaga (second from left)—share their reflections on the conference and its contexts.

Julian Barr (Geography)

The National Humanities Conference by the National Humanities Alliance and the Federation of State Humanities Councils was an exciting experience and one of the most unique conferences I have been able to engage with and not only because of the magnificent choice in location. The conference was hosted by Hawai’i Council for the Humanities in partnership with Humanities Guåhan, Northern Marianas Humanities Council, and the Amerika Samoa Humanities Council. This coming together of the states and territories of Oceania made for a thoughtful conference that put the work of those councils in the spotlight, which meant the work was by people of color and local indigenous communities. They presented the struggles of natural disasters that affected the Northern Marianas to the struggle to preserve culture and language in Guåhan. It showed that this conference cared about bringing a diverse set of voices to the forefront and honoring the local communities we were visiting.  

However, it was the Capps Lecture by Dr. Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio and Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa that really showcased this approach. They presented a phenomenal keynote together that wove together various approaches from traditional lecture to poetry and music. The topic was a wide look at the legacy of US colonialism in Hawai’i and the political movements against US colonialism in the past but also currently with the struggles surrounding the building of a telescope on sacred lands at Mauna Kea. It showed the strength of the humanities approach to present a complicated history and tie it back to the present to understand current injustices.

Lastly, I had the opportunity to present along with my three other colleagues on our digital humanities approaches. It was a great chance...

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Amelia Glaser

By Jesús Hidalgo

Professor Amelia Glaser is a peculiar case in the Translation Studies field—her Culture, Art, and Technology undergraduate class on translation at University of California San Diego boasts approximately 300 students. Nationwide, this type of course typically has a reduced number of students—if it's even offered at all. To explain how Professor Glaser has managed to attract so many students at a STEM campus, the Translation Studies Hub invited her to give a talk on Oct. 29.

“The University of California San Diego is like the MIT for the UC system, so the humanities need to find a way to engage with these students,” said the UCSD Associate Professor while holding a 13-page handout that included her syllabus and some of the translation activities she uses with her students.

Originally, her class was designed to explore translation theory heavily, with readings by Jacques Derrida, Walter Benjamin, and other usual suspects in the field. However, Professor Glaser noticed that students became more active when the class transitioned towards a workshop on translation. Students who spoke English as a second language were particularly involved as they had been translators for their own parents and family their whole lives.

“It was a different kind of student who was now the expert, who was speaking up, who was speaking from experience,” Professor Glaser said. “It was really incredibly gratifying. I had a couple of native speakers of Spanish, others who were English language learners, others who were first-generation college students, who were managing to explain very complex concepts to the class because they got it.”

With this experience in mind, she developed an assignment for which students have to work in pairs or, ideally, in groups of three, with at least one of the members being an English native speaker and one or two native speakers in another language.

Teaching translation to middle-school and high-school students as a community service activity and keeping an online journal, Alchemy, where students could publish their translations are some of the additional assignments and projects Professor Glaser developed for her class. The K-12 outreach project was a collaboration with the San Francisco-based Center for Art in Translation (CAT), which generously shared their own translation curriculum and poetry pages with Amelia Glaser and her students. (Samples can be found on the Alchemy website.)

The UCSD Associate Professor also shared some of the in-class activities included in her syllabus. For instance, a few of the attendants of her talk were invited to read a poem by Japanese author Matsuo Basho aloud. Professor Glaser explained that she makes...

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