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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Scholars at Work

Carbonless Conference

By Rachel Arteaga

On Thursday, September 19, organizers and activists were in the final phases of preparing for what would become the largest climate mobilization in history. Over the course of the following week, an estimated 7.6 million people would strike for climate action. Aerial photos of the protests vividly show that the scale of involvement—much of it led by young people around the world—was meant to match the scale of the climate crisis, and to bring to bear the actions of the many upon the decisions of the powerful few.  

On that same morning, a group of humanities scholars gathered at the University of Washington to hear a keynote panel featuring Gary Handwerk, Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the interdisciplinary Program on the Environment at the University of Washington, on a highly specialized area of research: the ecological and religious aspects of nineteenth-century literature and culture. As is typical of academic conferences, the featured speakers were from disparate locations around the world. Unlike other scholarly gatherings, none of the speakers had flown there. Instead, participants in the Ecology and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference had committed to using digital technologies and hyper-local meeting sites—rather than using air travel to meet in a shared location—seeking to bring the carbon footprint of the event as close to zero as possible.

The five physical locations for the conference spanned from Seattle to Texas, from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., and on to Lancaster in the UK. The institutions formally participating in the conference as live, in-person meeting sites were the University of Washington, Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University, Emory University, Georgetown University, and Lancaster University. Participants from nearby institutions—anyone willing to drive, bike, or travel by train—could join in. At the Seattle gathering, the Pacific Northwest region was well represented by scholars from Oregon and British Columbia, as well as various colleges and universities in Washington State. Organizers report that the conference had over 250 in-person participants across the five conference sites. Another 600 people or so from 165 cities in 19 countries watched events through the conference website.

Faculty organizers used a constellation of digital platforms to make the conference possible. Research paper presentations were streamed and recorded online through Webex, Zoom, and Facebook Livestream. On Twitter, audience members posted questions, notes, relevant links, and commentary using the hashtag #EcoReligion19c. For those who couldn’t log on or bike in, all of the keynotes and sessions—including...

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By Denise Grollmus

On the night after the 2016 presidential election, fifty students and alumni gathered in the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center Theater. The mood was funereal as everyone took their seats and waited for Professor of Communication Ralina Joseph to get them started. For the past month, the group had been meeting weekly for intergenerational dialogue around issues of race as part of a ten-week course called Interrupting Privilege. Though those in attendance had signed up for challenging conversations meant to push them out of their comfort zones, that night felt particularly charged with anxiety, fear, shock, grief, and anger. Shock at how high the tide of hate had grown, anger at that shock, fear of what was to come, anxiety over how to respond. Joseph could feel it all as soon as she walked in the room. 

Rather than extinguish that charge—or let it run wild—she harnessed it. After all, Joseph had developed Interrupting Privilege for the purpose of helping people learn how to productively listen to and converse about these exact issues outside of their race and age bubbles. Both a class and a philosophy, Interrupting Privilege is 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. For the next two hours, Joseph modeled how to critique with love and how to engage in radical listening, fostering a space where people felt safe to acknowledge what they didn’t know, ask questions, and make mistakes, while the most vulnerable voices were centered and lifted up. 

For students like Embeba Hagos, the interracial and intergenerational space Joseph cultivated was a revelation. “I felt as though institutions like UW didn't care about racial equity. But when I started seeing people in my Interrupting Privilege class share their own experiences and be emotional in front of so many people, it was inspiring, because it gave me hope and courage to be that vulnerable, to be comfortable with my own experiences outside of my friends and family, especially at UW.”

Alumni like Salley Anderson also describe Interrupting Privilege as “life-changing.” “It was the right thing at the right time,” Anderson says. “It literally changed how I walk through the world, changed what I see, and cracked me wide open to view the world in a different way.” 

For both Hagos and Anderson, the success of Interrupting Privilege, which is now in its third year, is due to Joseph. From students and facilitators to alumni and administrators, everyone involved with Interrupting Privilege says that Joseph’s profound...

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Last month, the Simpson Center sent a handful of Indigenous doctoral candidates from the UW to the University of British Columbia for the 2019 HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) Conference, the theme of which was “Decolonizing Technologies, Reprogramming Education.” The conference focused on centering indigenous peoples and knowledges in order to think about how to effectively use technology to decolonize research and teaching.

Below, three scholars share some of the highlights from the four-day gathering, which included a vibrant roundtable discussion on supporting doctoral education in the field of American Indian and Indigenous Studies that featured a number of UW scholars, as well as a rousing plenary lecture from UW alum and ASU Professor Marisa Elena Duarte (Pascua Yaqui/Chicana) on how to reconfigure the human being and the expression of our humanity under the conditions of imperial technocracy.

Gabriel de los Angeles (Snoqualmie; Education):

The talk on “Rhizomatic Learning: Decolonizing the Classroom” prompted reflection on what effects of rhizomatic learning are to be generated in the community. If practices in the classroom are to be broadened to include epistemological ways of being, knowing, and doing outside of school, what shifts in community practices are to be created by rhizomatic learning?

The decolonizing perspectives for architectural education was the most edgy and fire-branded panel of the five I attended. Declaring outright that “architectural design is colonization” was a strong, correct, and important distinction. After all, the entire field is dedicated to issues of terraforming and transforming life on the land. If that’s not colonization, I don’t know what is—especially in light of the fact that, since its inception, architectural design has totally disregarded indigenous ways of being with the very land it has sought to reshape.

Unfortunately, the talk on “Decolonizing Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne” was far too mired in Western scientific epistemologies, especially in the panel’s designation of ages 18-25 as a developmental stage. This assertion problematically situates legal adults in a social status of being in between adultness and childhood and, therefore, perpetuates the dismissal, disregard, and gatekeeping of thoughts, practices, and actions on the part of young adults. Frankly, I find this move inappropriate within the realm of “decolonization.”

However, both of the computing-related talks I attended, “Promoting Cultural and Gender Diversity in a Computing Course” and “Move Slow and Fix Things: Teaching Computer Science Majors to Decode and Decolonize Tech” were great. Both were filled with useful tools. While the former discussed how to use Clickers and Dotstorming for creating accessible and diverse history, the latter  challenged the audience not only to ask of certain...

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By Isaac Rivera

“We are not asking for an apology. We just want it to stop.” —Yvonne Swan

“The taking of Native children was not just for assimilation, but to take the land. When you break that family tie, you also break the Nation and discontinue those relationships to land.” —Nick Estes

On May 6, the Simpson Center was graced with the presence and wisdom of Native American activist and citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation Yvonne Wanrow (now Yvonne Swan) and University of New Mexico Assistant Professor of American Studies Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe). The sunny afternoon marked just one day since the national recognition of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Trans and Two-Spirit peoples (MMIWG2S) on May 5. As graduate students, faculty, staff, and invited guests gathered around, the Simpson Center’s meeting room grew to capacity resulting in calls for additional chairs to be brought in.

Once everyone found a seat, Swan began by introducing herself and her relatives, and acknowledged her ancestors who shaped her path. Swan described her journey to understand her culture, language, ancestors, history, and lifeways in order to remind the audience that so much of that knowledge has been erased and continues to be actively suppressed, criminalized, and held hostage by settler colonialism, which violently disregards the relationship between Indigenous bodies and the land. For Swan, her story demonstrates the historical and structural violence that Indigenous peoples have been subject to since the dawn of settler colonialism, particularly in terms of how Indigenous families have been systematically torn apart in an effort to seize land.

In 1972, Swan was arrested and charged with murder after shooting a known child molester who had tried to rape her son. In exchange for defending her child, Swan was systematically targeted with the entire weight of the U.S. justice system. From claiming that Swan had “taken the law into her own hands” to portraying her as a “hysterical woman,” prosecutors employed a number of racist and sexist tropes in order to secure a conviction of second-degree murder and first-degree assault. But Swan didn’t stop fighting. Her case, to the surprise of many, went all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court, which decided that Swan had acted in self-defense and ordered that her case be retried.

The State of Washington v. Wanrow (1977) not only recognized the legal challenges of women to effectively defend themselves and their children against male violence, but it also inspired and rallied a generation of Indigenous gender resistance movements including the Women of All Red Nations (WARN) and the American Indian Movement (AIM). In particular, her victory paved the way for international...

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By Lydia Heberling

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in April, a dozen graduate students gathered in the Simpson Center and nervously awaited the arrival of Kim TallBear, Associate Professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, the Canadian Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience & Environment, and co-creator of the sexy storytelling series, Tipi Confessions: A Research-Creation Laboratory. As graduate students in Indigenous Studies we felt as if we were preparing to meet a rock star; TallBear is legendary in Indian Country for both her incisive critique of blood quantum and DNA-based racialization, and her biting irony and humor on social media. Her recent critical inquiry into polyamory and what she calls “settler sex”—structures of sexuality such as monogamy and marriage imposed on Indigenous peoples by settlers—is a fascinating bridge between academic and public scholarship and a model for how to reimagine knowledge production in ways that center Indigenous and feminist values. For all of these reasons, we were beyond excited for a rare opportunity to meet with her in such an intimate setting.

The Indigenous Studies Graduate Research Cluster, sponsored by the UW Simpson Center, is in its inaugural year at the UW. Because Indigenous Studies is so inter- (and multi-) disciplinary, many of us feel isolated in our disciplinary silos, and it is often difficult to read widely enough beyond our own work to gain a good sense of the field, which is important for our development as professionals who are preparing for a competitive job market. For these reasons we chose to organize as a reading group and work our way through a syllabus that was collaboratively designed to expose us to new publications in our field that fall outside our individual reading lists. Over the course of this year we’ve met two times per quarter to discuss Indigenous texts from literature, science, political science, history, and cultural studies. Our reading syllabus culminated in a spring meeting where we discussed Kim TallBear’s blogs and Twitter posts on critical polyamory and settler sex, in preparation for her campus visit and for this opportunity to meet and talk with a leading scholar in the field.

As TallBear entered the room you could feel our nervous excitement reach its peak. She is a tall and formidable presence, but her smile is warm and generous and we settled down quickly into a comfortable circle to talk. After introducing ourselves and sharing summaries of our work, we segued into a discussion about her most recent scholarship on polyamory and settler sex. We intentionally chose to focus on this aspect of her work rather than on her past emphasis on DNA, blood quantum, and racialization because to date her critical polyamory “publications” have remained strictly public: she has processed her experiences and observations in polyamory via Twitter and her blog, ...

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By Denise Grollmus

On a sunny day in April, Jean Dennison sits tucked away in her office on the fifth floor of the Brutalist labyrinth that is Padelford Hall. She fields a steady stream of calls and meetings as the afternoon light streaks across her impossibly tidy desk. On her computer screen, the text of a Google Doc continuously transforms as though ghosts are pounding away on her keyboard. In fact, the document is being edited remotely by her colleagues, who have been working tirelessly on a major grant proposal that would help fund the University of Washington’s newly created Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies (CAIIS), of which Dennison is a co-director.

“I never used to understand why people couldn’t stay on top of their emails,” Dennison says. “Now I know.” 

Associate Professor of American Indian Studies and a citizen of the Osage Nation, Dennison is one of several faculty members, students, staff and community partners that have made the UW a premier site for research, teaching, and service in the field of American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS). AIIS scholars have appointments in many departments across the UW and are particularly well represented in the School of Social Work, Information School, College of Education, and the College of Arts & Sciences, including AIS, Anthropology, Art History, History, English, the Jackson School of International Studies, and others. The UW’s collaborative network around indigeneity so impressed Yale Professor of English Wai Chee Dimock when she came to give the keynote for Earthly Impressions — a two-day symposium on book history and the environmental humanities — that she is featuring its work in her editor’s column for the May issue of PMLA.

Indeed, talk to anyone working in the field and they will tell you that AIIS is having a moment. Dennison and her colleagues identify several factors that have played into the increasing interest in the field locally, nationally, and internationally. Some of the interest, they say, is being driven by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has mandated that the history of...

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By Sarah Grace Faulk

On May 1, UW’s Jacob Lawrence Gallery reached maximum capacity as people piled in to hear artist, teacher, and writer shawné michaelain holloway give her artist talk, “FOCUS ON THE BEHAVIOR YOU WANT.” holloway’s talk was part of the Black Embodiments Studio (BES)—an arts writing incubator and public lecture series rooted in expansive and dynamic investigations of blackness in contemporary art.  A collaborative effort between GWSS Assistant Professor Kemi Adeyemi and the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, BES is a year-long residency of Seattle-based arts writers, from both within and outside the UW. The year is structured around the visits of three professional black art practitioners, who each meet with BES residents and each deliver a public lecture. Alongside holloway, this year’s visiting practitioners included Claire Tancons, curator for the Sharjah Biennial 2019, and Chicago-based artist Danny Giles.

The first half of holloway’s talk explored how her practice—which combines video, writing, and performance—takes up and works through the idea of new media. For holloway, new media doesn’t require an intricate understanding of cutting edge technology, but a desire to relate to “large new ways.” Her work is about the internet and being in/on the internet, and explores how new technologies bring us into relation with each other, thus giving rise to new intimacies, new fields, and new identities. holloway also spoke about the relationship of her work to that of other black artists operating in new media and Internet art—artists such as Keith Obadike and Hennessy Youngman, who use the web as a framework for thinking through blackness both online and in the art world.

The second half of holloway’s talk was part performance, part lecture as she read a letter—what she described as a “meditation on the Internet”—from a Google doc projected onto a wall behind her. holloway—who began her artistic practice as a poet—read her stream of consciousness musings (some inspired by Donna Haraway’s The Companion Species Manifesto) at breakneck speed, while the projection of her letter was interrupted with videos that were not always but often sexually explicit, paired with symphonies made of the internal sounds of computers and scrolling text. You could hear the audience hold its breath when a person appeared on screen wearing a large strap-on. As the figure spit into their hands and proceeded to stroke the dildo, text streamed across the screen: FOCUS ON THE BEHAVIOR YOU WANT.

The letter ended with a series of commands, many of which have stuck in my mind since. How many times have I reached out to others or wanted to reach out? And what had I hoped to...

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By Maria Phoutrides

In the third and final installment of the Rethinking the Global Turn series, Dr. Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director of Research for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art at Yale University, and founding co-editor of British Art Studies, presented on the theme of digital art histories. The series, organized by the Division of Art History as a part of the Simpson Center’s Next Generation PhD initiative, has included a number of public lectures and workshops that have been dedicated to an examination of emerging art historical methodologies from the archaeological to the oceanic.

While Dr. Turner’s sessions focused on new digital tools for art history, she reinforced that the digital and the analog need not be seen as discrete or opposing approaches. Indeed, several of the questions at both events had to do with the stakes of academic publishing more broadly, from peer review to audience engagement.

On Thursday, Dr. Turner presented a public lecture, “Exhibition Histories, Digital Futures: Researching, Curating, and Publishing 250 Years of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.” The focus of this presentation was Dr. Turner’s exhibition and online publication, created, as the title suggests, for the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy’s annual Summer Exhibition. Working with 90 collaborators, the online publication allows readers to revisit each year of the exhibition, starting in 1769. In each entry, online visitors can view the catalogue, scroll through visualizations of statistics (for example, medium of exhibitors), or see who was on the selection committee for that year.  

In reflecting on the project during her presentation and in the following Q&A, Dr. Turner explained how one of the challenges she and her co-authors faced was writing for an academic publication while being limited to 1,000-word entries. Yet in doing so, the publication presents a range of digestible articles. Although the data set that the team worked with was fairly comprehensive, the result is not a textbook but more a set of glimpses into exhibitions past. In presenting these histories of exhibitions, Dr. Turner explained, we might better understand the ways in which institutions shape artistic production.

In the same Q&A session, Dr. Turner recounted a question she had received multiple times from readers: would they publish a print version of the chronicle? “You’ve completely missed the point,” she recalls thinking in response. Not to disregard the role of print publications, Dr. Turner suggested that the online chronicle was not simply the digital version of a print catalogue. In doing so, she proposed that the power of these digital tools is not simply that they digitize, but rather that they can ask new questions and present new ways of thinking...

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By Denise Grollmus

When Gillian Harkins first started volunteering with University Beyond Bars (UBB), she noticed that while many UW faculty and graduate students did work related to prisons and education, few were speaking to each other about it. In the hopes of working collaboratively to develop streamlined and rigorous course offerings while thinking critically about how best to be accountable to the students they served, Harkins started the Transformative Education Behind Bars (TEBB) working group through the Simpson Center in 2009.

Since then, Harkins, a UW Associate Professor of English, has facilitated a number of projects that center currently and formerly incarcerated people while collaborating with various groups to identify and develop pathways from inside prison to college campuses. From TEBB and the 2011 National Conference on Prison Higher Education to the 2018-2019 Prison Education Collaboration and the seminar “Collaboration Across Walls: Public Scholarship as Means or Ends,” Harkins has worked with a wide range of leaders, students, faculty, staff and activists across a variety of programs, campuses, and communities to help build coalitions dedicated to increasing access to higher education for those who face the greatest barriers to it.

It is this collaborative work that is being celebrated by the Barclay Simpson Prize for Scholarship in Public. This is the third time the prize, which carries an award of $10,000, has been given. Named for the philanthropist who endowed the Simpson Center for the Humanities in honor of his father, the Barclay Simpson Prize is meant to recognize UW faculty who practice humanities scholarship as a public good. The winner is selected by the Executive Board. “What so impressed the board is Gillian Harkins’ profound dual commitment to both building programs and networks to make higher education available to incarcerated adults and to writing about it,” says Kathy Woodward, Director of the Simpson Center and Professor of English. “She is known across the country not only for her deeply collaborative work in Washington state but also for her influential writing on prison education.”

Honoring History, Working Collaboratively

Harkins has always understood community activism as a part of, rather than apart from, her scholarship....

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Jenna Grant (Anthropology) recently received a $10,000 Public Engagement Seed Grant from the Whiting Foundation for her project, Archive Actions: Cambodians and Cambodian Americans Producing Ethnographic Histories. Grant will collaborate with Cambodians and Cambodian Americans in the Seattle area to design public events and a digital exhibit using a collection of photos and documents from the final weeks of the Khmer Rouge donated to the UW Libraries Special Collections by US photojournalist and UW alumna Elizabeth Becker. Not only will Archive Actions mark the activation of the Becker Archive, but it will model a process for the University to be accountable to relevant communities in the production and interpretation of historical archives. By working together with those communities affected by the Khmer Rouge, Grant will ensure that the shape of the archive and the histories it represents are directed by those whose stories the archive tells.

Archive Actions is an extension of Grant’s previous work with the Becker Archive. In December 2017, Grant, with the support of the Simpson Center, brought internationally-acclaimed Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh to UW. Alongside screenings of Panh’s 2013 film The Missing Picture, and First They Killed My Father (which Panh produced), Grant also collaborated, with Southeast Asia Studies Librarian Judith Henchy and Southeast Asia Studies MA student Adrian Alarilla, on a video installation utilizing materials from the Becker collection. Age of the Kampuchea Picture was an interactive video installation meant to embody Pol Pot's visions of Kampuchea by projecting a selection of Becker’s photographs onto a map of Kampuchea that was composed of facsimiles of Becker’s notes and official papers of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Grant is also a recipient of a 2019-2020 Society of Scholars fellowship. Her project, Fixing the Image: Medical Imaging in Phnom Penh, examines recent accounts of technology, images, and medicine by way of a detailed ethnography of medical imaging in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Playing with multiple senses of the term ‘fix’, Grant’s project explores practices of (self)definition, care, and repair of health, health systems, and the nation.

You can read more about Archive Actions ...

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