Scholars at Work

feathered wing on black background

Phillip Thurtle (History and Comparative History of Ideas) has a new book on the role of visual grids in the history of biology, with startling implications that fan outward into matters as fundamental as desire, our understanding of our bodies, and our view of how society is composed. Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life (Minnesota, 2018), is part of the Posthumanities series at the University of Minnesota Press.

Biology in the Grid book coverThurtle also produced a digital companion website that explores these implications through examples drawn from science fiction, film, comics, and a sweeping array of cultural mythology. The site, Living Fables: Losing My Wings, built on the platform Scalar, allows viewers to choose their own journey through multimedia exploration of the biological pathways that give some creatures wings and others, in Thurtle’s words “twitching phantom limbs.”

Thurtle’s digital work was the subject of a 2016 Simpson Center story on “Why We Don’t Have Wings” that probes the social and biological questions layered within Thurtle’s imaginative question.


Biology in the Grid expands the evolutionary issue of wingedness into a deeper exploration of genetics and visual representation.

More from the publisher:

As one of the most visual sciences, biology has an aesthetic dimension that lends force and persuasion to scientific arguments: how things are arranged on a page, how texts are interspersed with images, and how images are composed reflect deep-seated beliefs about how life exists on Earth. Biology in the Grid traces how our current understanding of life and genetics emerged from the pervasive nineteenth- and twentieth-century graphic form of the grid, which allowed disparate pieces of information to form what media theorist Vilém Flusser called “technical images.”

Phillip Thurtle explains how the grid came to dominate biology in the twentieth century, transforming biologists’ beliefs about how organisms were constructed. He demonstrates how this shift in our understanding of biological grids enabled new philosophies in endeavors such as advertising, entertainment, and even political theory.

Thurtle was a Digital Humanities Summer Fellow at the Simpson...

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Image of Rachel Lanier Taylor

Rachel Lanier Taylor, a UW doctoral candidate in history, has developed a series of publications for the Society for History in the Federal Government to connect its work to public audiences. Taylor has worked as an intern for the society through the Simpson Center’s Historians at Work: Building Professional Networks project.

During that time, Taylor drew on her digital humanities skills to develop a blog for the society about history in the federal government (which is the nation’s largest employer of history PhDs). She launched a second blog for the History@FedGov educational portal. In a post about the Ellis Island Powerhouse and Laundry Building, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, she describes her research into the building’s architectural history:

My experience documenting this Georgian Revival style building and its various mechanical fixtures—an early-twentieth-century boiler, a mattress sanitizer, and refrigerated mortuary bins—allowed me to gain familiarity with work as a historian outside of academia and highlighted the importance of seeing the built environment as an archival and historical source worthy of preservation.

The internship is part of the Simpson Center’s Next Generation Humanities PhD initiative. The project joins parallel efforts in medical humanities, art history, English, Philosophy, Near & Middle Eastern Studies, and cross-disciplinary modern language programs, in envisioning new approaches and career paths in doctoral education.

Taylor studies US environmental history with dissertation supervisor Linda Nash (History) and interned in 2017 and 2018 with the Historic American Buildings Survey, part of the US National Park Service. She previously led the environmental humanities...

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Feminist Interventions book cover.

Lauren S. Berliner and Ron Krabill (both Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell) have co-edited a new book that examines practices that integrate participatory technology with feminist approaches.

Each chapter in Feminist Interventions in Participatory Media: Pedagogy, Publics, Practice (Routledge, 2018) draws on specific examples from scholars and activists including Monika Sengul-Jones, Nancy Chang, Laura Rattner, Negin Dahya, W.E. King, Jesikah Maria Ross, Carmen Gonzalez Luna, Leah Shafer, Izul Zulkarnain, and Kathleen Woodward.

More from the publisher:

Feminist Interventions in Participatory Media is an edited collection that brings together feminist theory and participatory media pedagogy. It asks what, if anything, is inherently feminist about participatory media? Can participatory media practices and pedagogies be used to reanimate or enact feminist futures? And finally, what reimagined feminist pedagogies are opened up (or closed down) by participatory media across various platforms, spaces, scales, and practices?

. . . The case studies originate from sites as varied as community organizations to large scale collaborations between universities, public media, and social movements. They offer insights into the continuities and disjunctures which stem from the adoption of and adaption to participatory media technologies.

Both Berliner and Krabill have extensive connections to the Simpson Center. Berliner co-organized, with Nora Kenworthy (Nursing & Health Studies, UW Bothell), the 2016 symposium Producing a Worthy Illness, which led to a groundbreaking study of crowdfunding for health costs and extensive news coverage. Berliner also co-organized the recent Sound and Images video essay workshop and the Summer Institute in the Arts & Humanities on “Seattle’s Deeper Histories,” among other projects.

Krabill is a co-organizer of the current Simpson Center project on Pedagogies of Reciprocity: The Politics of International...

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Book coverA new collection of original essays edited by Naomi B. Sokoloff (Near Eastern Language & Civilization and Comparative Literature) and Nancy E. Berg (Hebrew and Comparative Literature, Washington University) draws on diverse perspectives to probe the state of Hebrew language studies in contemporary America and beyond. 

What We Talk about When We Talk about Hebrew (and What It Means to Americans) (University of Washington Press, 2018) gathers twelve essays, chiefly from the May 2016 UW conference Hebrew and the Humanities: Present Tense.

In Moment magazine, reviewer Anis Modi praises the book’s “kaleidoscopic” approach that views the topic through multiple lenses:

The different essays are both personal and impersonal, addressing the spiritual, the communal and the academic undercurrents making up the Hebraist tradition in America. Their efforts result in a book that takes readers on a kaleidoscopic journey through Jewish identity, Israel, the diaspora and the common denominator that ties them all together: the Hebrew language.

More from the UW Press.

Sokoloff gives a talk about the new book on Monday, October 29, at 3:30 pm in HUB 145.

The 2016 Hebrew and the Humanities conference wasorganized by Sokoloff, Berg, and Hannah Pressman, formerly of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, who contributed a chapter. It was sponsored by Near Eastern Languages & Civilization, Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media, the Stroum Center, and the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Sokoloff also organized a 2005 Simpson Center symposium on American Jewish Writing Today.

Congratulations, all!

MartinMinda Martin (Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell) has completed a documentary film about the civic efforts that protected Seattle neighborhoods from major highway proposals in the 1960s. Ramps to Nowhere provides a visual documentation of the citizens who exposed the racial and class injustice of federal highway plans that targeted low-income, senior, and nonwhite neighborhoods, and who built public support to preserve major swaths of Seattle, including the Central District, the Washington Park Arboretum, Montlake, Cascade, Lake City, and Ravenna.

The film premiered Wednesday, September 26, at the Northwest Film Forum, where Martin hosted a conversation with the audience.

More on the project:

This anti-freeway movement was instrumental in halting two major freeways (RH Thompson and Bay Freeway) and significantly downsizing a third (the I-90), saving parks, shorelines, and thousands of homes and businesses. The lasting benefit of Seattle's anti-freeway movement to future generations — and the sheer breadth of citizen involvement—make it an integral, if little known, facet of the city's heritage.

Seattle’s freeway revolt is a story of the power of citizens to change public policy and dramatically shape the environment in which they live. Unlike many major cities in America, where freeways were cutting through communities and displacing people, primarily poor and black, Seattle effectively kept communities intact through the anti-freeway movement.


Martin received a 2015-2016 Public Scholarship/Community Engagement award from the Simpson Center for work on the film as well as a 2016 Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship.

Congratulations, Minda!

HarkinsGillian Harkins (English) has developed a new graduate seminar based on her work as a 2016 Mellon Summer Fellow for New Graduate Seminars in the Humanities. The fellowship, part of the Simpson Center’s Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics program, gathers a cohort of UW faculty to develop new courses with significant public scholarship components. 

The course, Collaboration Across Walls: Public Scholarship as Means or Ends, offered in fall 2018, explores public scholarship as both an outcome and a method of inquiry. It focuses on issues of incarceration and critical carceral studies. More:

We will explore these questions by studying one sample practice: collaboration across geographies or architectures of incarceration. Readings will be drawn from the humanities, social science disciplines, interdisciplinary fields, and various public sectors including mainstream journalism, alternative media, digital platforms, community-based organizations, and currently incarcerated groups. Course outcomes will include content knowledge in critical carceral studies; skills acquisition in multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and cross-sectoral literacies and communication; and production of a project in “public scholarship” connecting content knowledge and skill versatility.

See the course syllabus here.

The course joins a growing list of new seminars arising from the Reimagining program: Public Spheres, Public Media (with Stephen Groening), Feminist New Media Studies (with Regina Yung Lee), and Organizing Film Festivals as Public Scholarship (with Leigh Mercer).

Harkins is also the recipient of a 2018-2019 Simpson Center Public Scholarship/Community Engagement award for Prison Education Collaboration, a project she is co-leading with Dan Berger (Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell), Megan Ming Francis (Political Science), and Megan Ybarra (Geography). Harkins is also a founding organizer of Transformative Education Behind Bars, a project that connects UW faculty and graduate students with educators at community colleges, nonprofit organizations...

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BailkinJordanna Bailkin (History) has a new book with Oxford University Press delving into the history of refugee camps in 20th century Britain. While we rarely think of Britain as a “land of camps,” as Bailkin puts it, it built dozens of camps housing tens of thousands of Belgians, Jews, Basques, Poles, Hungarians, Anglo-Egyptians, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese, and others fleeing the interlocking crises of war and empire.

In Unsettled: Refugee Camps and the Making of Multicultural Britain, Bailkin show how the complex interaction among citizens, migrants, and refugees shaped today’s multicultural Britain. She also unpacks the contemporary relevance of her work in a series of recent public writings in the UK’s Prospect magazine, on the websites The Conversation and Refugee History, as well as a speaking appearance on the BBC History Extra podcast.

On December 6, Bailkin also delivers a Katz Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities on the topic “Unsettled: Citizens, Migrants, and Refugees in British History,” at 7 pm in UW’s Kane Hall.

More from the publisher:

As the world's refugee crisis once again brings to Europe the challenges of mass encampment, Unsettled offers warnings from a liberal democracy's recent past. Through lively anecdotes from interviews with former camp residents and workers, Unsettled conveys the vivid, everyday history of refugee camps, which witnessed births and deaths, love affairs and violent conflicts, strikes and protests, comedy and tragedy. Their story—like that of today's refugee crisis—is one of complicated intentions that played out in unpredictable ways. The aim of this book is not to redeem camps—nor, indeed, to condemn them. It is to refuse to ignore them. Unsettled speaks to all who are interested in the plight of the encamped, and the global uses of encampment in our present world.

Bailkin was a member of the 2017-2018 Society of Scholars, and she also joins the Simpson Center’s Executive Board in 2018.

Congratulations, Jordanna!

SumpterSam Sumpter, a doctoral candidate in Philosophy, has received the Alvord Fellowship in the Humanities for dissertation research into microaggressions and trans identity. Sumpter will join the Society of Scholars at the Simpson Center for 2018-2019.

The Alvord Fellowship is the College of Arts & Science’s most prestigious graduate student award in the humanities, providing a stipend of $16,000 supported by private donors and a waiver of tuition from the Graduate School. Sumpter was also awarded a scholarship from the Frank L. and Catherine D. Doleshy Endowed Fund.

Sumpter’s dissertation, “Constructing and Being Constructed: Relational Trans Identity and Responsibility for Microaggressions,” extends feminist relational-identity theory into a range of non-normative gender identities, charting theoretical ground while also laying groundwork for social change.

“Sam’s work exemplifies a rarified combination of qualities: intellectual acuity, analytical rigor, attunement with the most vulnerable voices, and an orientation towards creating and translating knowledge into practical action through social action,” said Carole Lee, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Sumpter’s dissertation advisor. “Not only is Sam’s research at the leading edge at the frontier of philosophical knowledge, it builds on those facets that are simultaneously public-facing and community-building.”

Congratulations, Sam!

Mother holds the hands of her two children as they walk in Queens

Students in Leigh Mercer’s graduate seminar “Organizing Film Festivals as Public Scholarship” recently curated a film festival at Seattle’s Chief Sealth International High School, screening films from Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Colombia under the theme of “Outsider Heroes.”

Some two hundred students at Seattle’s most diverse high school turned out for the May 4-5 event. They watched Entre Nos (2009), about a Colombian emigrant and her children struggling to forge a life in Queens, New York. They watched Rara (2016), about a 13-year-old Chilean girl navigating school, friendship, and her mother’s new life with another woman. Through guided discussions and workshops, the high-school students considered the power of film to engage questions of cultural representation and identity.

The UW graduate students, in turn, gained a sense of the potential of film festivals as a way to bring their scholarship to new public audiences. That was the intent of the winter 2018 seminar taught by Mercer, Associate Professor of Spanish & Portuguese Studies. Mercer, like other faculty in area studies and literature and language departments, has repeatedly been asked to organize film series as the popularity of such festivals grows internationally. Sensing an opportunity, she developed the new seminar, using fellowship support from the Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics program of the Simpson Center for the Humanities.

In the seminar, doctoral students across disciplines considered the critical implications of festival organization, gaining a historical understanding of the film festival phenomenon, while also examining what it means to translate their area of expertise for new publics.

They also gained practical experience as curators. Their preparation for the “Outsider Heroes” festival included viewing and discussing films, meeting with other curators, and hosting Chief Sealth teachers to better understand their students. Mercer’s students also faced challenges particular to a high-school setting, including Seattle Public Schools film guidelines against nudity, sex, or swearing.

“I am very accustomed to watching films for pleasure,” doctoral student Rigoberto Gutiérrez Piñón told ...

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Partnership entry on dictionary page, courtesy Medicine Anthropology Theory

The open-access web journal Medicine Anthropology Theory has published a themed issue led by University of Washington faculty examining the notion of “partnership” as it’s used in global health and related fields. The issue grows out of Humanistic Perspectives on Global Health Partnerships, a Simpson Center project that gathers scholars across disciplines to consider how the oft-used concept of “partnership” both reveals and obscures power imbalances when health workers from wealthy countries interact with poor countries, particularly in Africa.

The MAT issue includes multiple contributions from UW faculty and students who participated in the Simpson Center project, along with other project collaborators, including Iruka Okeke, Professor of Pharmaceutical Microbiology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, who delivered a keynote to the group in February 2017 and spoke at a colloquium with Paul Farmer in February 2018.

Researchers in the UW group have also published a series of pieces at the website Africa Is a Country. Their work continues this year as a Simpson Center collaboration studio led by Lynn Thomas (History), Johanna Crane (Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell), and Nora Kenworthy (Nursing & Health Studies, UW Bothell). The three of them wrote the introduction to the MAT issue.

See the full set of articles at MAT.

Congratulations, all!


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