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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Scholars at Work

The most recent issue of Public: Arts, Design, Humanities, a journal of Imagining America, features an article by Dan Berger (Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell) as a case study of publicly engaged digital scholarship. The special issue, “Beyond Mass Incarceration: New Horizons of Liberation and Freedom,” includes sections on public scholarship principles, practices, case studies, resources, and a gallery of short-form contributions describing projects that exemplify the issue’s particular focus area. Berger’s article, co-authored with UW Bothell alumnus Magdalena Donea (Microsoft), Denise Hattwig (UW Libraries), and Danielle Rowland (UW Libraries), is titled “A Counter-Archive of Imprisonment: The Washington Prison History Project,” and focuses on a large-scale project that includes an open-access digital archive, a website for the archival materials, and a video game developed from handwritten designs created by Ed Mead, “a longtime radical from the Seattle area who spent close to two decades in prison (1976–1993) for his involvement in the George Jackson Brigade, a clandestine anticapitalist group formed in the 1970s,” while he was incarcerated in Walla Walla state prison in 1987. Berger worked on the project extensively as a Digital Humanities Summer Fellow in 2017.

The authors explain:

One of the most fascinating, and certainly the most unexpected, parts of the project has been the discovery of a text-adventure computer game about life in prison that Mead designed while incarcerated at the Washington State Reformatory in the late 1980s. The prison had recently introduced computers into the facility, allowing some of the civil society groups inside to use them in their efforts. (This was before the advent of the worldwide web; although prisoners at the Washington State Reformatory still have limited access to computers, they are denied internet access.) Ever the autodidact, Mead taught himself programming code. He made the game while incarcerated and recalls playing it with other prisoners.

Berger found the code in the archive in the form of a 20-page dot-matrix printout of original computer source code written in the BASIC language. Donea—a longtime tech worker who was then a graduate student at UW Bothell—worked to decipher its logic and committed to recovering its functionality and restoring it to some measure of playability.

Some bit of historical context is in order, since the format is anachronistic to modern gaming. In a text-adventure game, the player reads...

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ethan ucker (English) has received a 2019 Humanities Without Walls Fellowship, one of 30 doctoral students selected nationwide. Humanities Without Walls is a consortium that links the humanities centers at 15 research universities in the Midwest and beyond to create new avenues for collaborative research, teaching, and the production of humanities scholarship. Fellows attend a three-week summer institute in Chicago that prepares them to pursue values-based careers within, adjacent to, or outside of the academy.

Humanities Without Walls is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and organized by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The program’s goals dovetail with the Simpson Center’s Next Generation Humanities PhD initiative, which contributes to nationwide conversations about developing new approaches to doctoral education.

The award recognizes ethan’s commitment to transdisciplinary public scholarship, and to democratizing and deprofessionalizing humanistic knowledge. ethan uses his work as a researcher, organizer, and educator to support efforts by communities that are systematically disrupted by the U.S. settler carceral state to build and sustain capacities, infrastructures, and futures that are beyond the reach of, separate from, and incommensurable with its institutions and its logics.

As a researcher, ethan explores autonomous capacity- and infrastructure- building projects that have arisen in the context of social movements for Black liberation and Indigenous resurgence in the U.S.  He studies the strategies used to materially provision these projects: the organizational containers and administrative forms that house and protect Black and Indigenous radical political imaginaries; less the manifestos and the speeches than the grant applications, budgets, and fundraising plans that they inspire and require. As an organizer, ethan contributes to the development of a response to Chicago’s gun violence epidemic that is driven by – that centers the voices and needs of – those most intimately affected by gun-related harms: young gang-involved people of color from working-class communities on the city’s South and West Sides for whom illicit firearms are easily accessible, and who are actively shooting guns and getting shot. This infrastructure-building project applies a harm reduction framework to illicit gun use to support communities’ efforts to steward their own conflicts without the police.

ethan is the co-founder of Chicago-based Circles & Ciphers, a hip-hop infused restorative justice organization led by and for young people of color who are impacted by violence that uses art, education, and direct action to work toward collective healing, accountability, and the abolition of the prison-industrial complex.

The fall 2018 Special Issue of the Western Humanities Review, on the theme of “humanities in the community,” is now available, and inside, you can find Annie Dwyer’s most recent publication, “The Humanities Doctoral Student in the Community.” Inspired by her work as Assistant Program Director of the Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics program at the Simpson Center, and in conjunction with a presentation she gave at the Western Humanities Alliance conference last year, Dwyer wrote this reflection on the agency and possibility that graduate students demonstrate in their work. She writes:

“Far from simply individually benefiting from a short-term professional development opportunity, Mellon fellows are catalyzing enduring cultural change in their departments. [ . . .] Recognizing that the Mellon fellows are more effective at transforming their departmental cultures than any institutional entity might be, in recent years we’ve simply sought to amplify their voices and widen their reach.”

To hear some of those voices, you can read posts written by our Mellon Fellows on the Reimagining the PhD Blog.

Congratulations, Annie!

Image from Labor History project.

The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project currently records slightly more than 31,000 page views every month, 372,000 in the past year. And now, thanks to a new, mobile-friendly design, pages are more readable and can be scaled to cell phones and smaller devices, which will help bring more traffic to the project and encourage users to read or view more of its content.

Last summer, while in residence at the Simpson Center as a Digital Humanities Summer Fellow, James Gregory (History) worked with web architect Ryan Poe to create and execute the design which involved an entirely new navigation system and reformatting the site’s more than 200 pages. Teachers in classrooms at all levels from middle schools to the University of Washington draw upon the resources available on the site, and its influence has reached public audiences and lawmakers since it was launched in 2005.

In addition, Gregory worked with research assistant Amanda Miller, a senior history major, to add content to the Mapping American Social Movements though the Twentieth Century Project. They concentrated on developing data and maps about one of the most important sets of social movements of the last century, the antiwar and new left movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Congratulations, James!

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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