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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Scholars at Work

Aguirre-MandujanoOscar Aguirre-Mandujano (Interdisciplinary Program in Near & Middle Eastern Studies) has accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Ottoman History at the University of Pennsylvania following the completion of his PhD this spring.

Aguirre-Mandujano has been closely involved in Simpson Center projects, serving as a co-organizer (with Cabeiri Robinson, Esra Bakkalbasiouglu, and Michael Degerald) of New Scholarly Practices, Broader Career Paths in Near & Middle Eastern Studies, a project of the Next Generation Humanities PhD initiative. He was also a member of the 2016-17 Society of Scholars and a co-organizer (with Walter Andrews and Selim Kuru, his dissertation advisor) of the 2017 Simpson Center conference The Many Poems of Baki.

At Penn, Aguirre-Mandujano will teach courses on Ottoman literary and intellectual history, books and readers in the Islamic world, and horses and animal sacrifice in world history, as well as broader introductory courses on Ottoman history, Islamic empires in the early modern world, and animal-human relations. His dissertation, Poetics of Empire: Literature and Political Culture at the Early Modern Ottoman Court (1451-1512) argues that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Ottoman scholars and statesmen produced a new literary language in order to express political thought. Building on the work of cultural and intellectual historians over the past twenty years, Aguirre-Mandujano  shows that poetic and literary composition was an extension of contemporary politics, a medium through which Ottoman learned men expressed, debated, and ultimately transformed political communication in the early modern Islamic world.

Congratulations, Oscar!

AguirreMichael D. Aguirre, a doctoral student in History, has received a dissertation fellowship from the Center for Engaged Scholarship, an organization of social scientists that builds connections between academics and progressive change agents. The $25,000 award recognizes dissertation work that contributes to “a more democratic, more egalitarian, and more environmentally sustainable society.”

Aguirre’s dissertation examines class formations, labor activism, and forms of citizenship during the shift of the global political economy from Keynesianism to the development of neoliberalism from 1964 through 1979. His research focuses on the eastern California borderlands of Imperial County, California, and Mexicali, Baja California Norte, Mexico.

More from Aguirre:

I explore how the termination of the guest worker Bracero Program in 1964 prompted policymakers and business people in the United States and Mexico to invest in unregulated agricultural and industrial regimes, respectively.

By focusing on Imperial County farmworkers and Mexicali industrial workers, I reveal the degree to which workers’ identities were in flux and how organized labor on both sides of the border struggled to negotiate an inclusive transborder politics that mirrored and challenged the international growth and power of capitalism. Utilizing archival research from Mexico, the United States, and oral histories with borderlands residents, I demonstrate how the historical formation of working classes facilitated both the transition toward a borderless capitalist landscape and the simultaneous entrenchment of racial and national borders that were felt, resisted, and co-opted for different needs.

Aguirre is a fellow in the Certificate in Public Scholarship program and a former PAGE (Publicly Active Graduate Education) fellow of Imagining America. He was also an associate editor of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, a contributor to the LGBTQ Activism in Seattle History Project, and a contributor to

Congratulations, Michael!

GroeningStephen Groening (Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media) has developed a new graduate seminar based on his work as a 2017 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, Public Spheres, Public Media, offered in spring 2018, unpacks the historical concept of the public sphere to grapple with new kinds of public spheres structured by new media social platforms and networks. More:

For Immanuel Kant, the public sphere gave voice to the bourgeois and was a kind of technology of Enlightenment; allowing for the public use of private reason. Jurgen Habermas’s 1962 work The Structural Transformation of the Bourgeois Public Sphere historicizes this notion and calls attention to its inadequacies. Subsequently, a wide range of theorists, political philosophers, and critics have taken Habermas to task for supporting a concept overly reliant on face-to-face dialogue and a privileged form of rationality that therefore ends up being exclusionary, racist, and sexist. At the same time, many—if not all—of these critics aver that the idea of a public sphere is nonetheless crucial and necessary for political philosophy, media studies, understanding social movements, and for democracy itself.

Learn more about the course

The course joins Feminist New Media Studies (with Regina Yung Lee) and Organizing Film Festivals as Public Scholarship (with Leigh Mercer) as new seminars arising from the Reimagining program.

Groening also received a Simpson Center Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship in 2016 for his Seattle Television History Project and a Society of Scholars fellowship in 2016-17 for his research on television and collectivity.

Congratulations, Stephen!

Kenworthy and Berliner

By Jonathan Hiskes

The media queries began before the research had even appeared in print. Last February the website of the journal Social Science & Medicine published a study by University of Washington researchers Nora Kenworthy and Lauren Berliner on the rise of crowdfunding campaigns to pay for personal medical costs.

Their first-of-its-kind survey, supported by the UW Simpson Center for the Humanities, found that sites like GoFundMe provide a poor safety net for families struggling with medical costs. They found that such campaigns, which have become a multi-billion-dollar phenomenon, tend to reflect—and potentially worsen—inequities already at play in US health care.

Through a story by the Simpson Center, and another at UW News, the research landed amid a raging national discourse on the public role in health care. That led to coverage from The Atlantic, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle, Marketplace Public Radio, HuffPost, and other outlets, including a cover story in Mother Jones under the arresting headline “Go Fund Yourself.” The interest has continued with interviews with reporters from The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, the CBC, and others.

Berliner and Kenworthy have provided journalists with findings from their study of 200 randomized GoFundMe campaigns. They found that 90 percent of campaigns did not reach their financial goal and that 10 percent raised less than $100. Their work suggests that those with wealthy social networks and savvy social-media skills have the best chance at running successful campaigns, while those with chronic diseases (often associated with aging) or overlapping financial needs have the hardest time persuading others to donate.

Magazine cover with beggar's handsIn doing so, the two reveal a crucial underlying question: Should we as a nation treat health care as a universal human right or as a private good to be earned? Crowdfunding campaigns, structured around individualized stories of suffering, train us to view health care as a private good dependent on “deservingness” and self-marketing skills, they argue.

“Crowdfunding takes our already unfair health system and makes it more unfair by asking people to market themselves—in essence, to produce a worthy illness—in order to survive,” Kenworthy...

Read more

AmruteSareeta Amrute (Anthropology) has received the Diana Forsythe Prize from the American Anthropological Association for her book Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin (Duke University Press, 2016). The annual prize recognizes published articles or books in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science, and/or technology, including biomedicine. More on the book from Amrute:

This book tells the story of short-term coders from India who sought work in Germany under a temporary visa program called the German Green Card. I investigate how their middle class aspirations both are made possible by and are stymied by the regimes of racialized labor that greet them as temporary programmers. My aim in this book is, in part, to re-materialize what has thusfar been called an immaterial economy.

The Simpson Center supported Amrute’s book through a 2010-2011 Society of Scholars fellowship. She also received a 2011 Digital Research Summer Institute fellowship and support to attend the 2013 Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria, British Columbia, and has been a member of WIRED (Women Investigating Race, Ethnicity, and Difference).

Congratulations, Sareeta!


Four students

The website Africa Is a Country has published three articles by University of Washington faculty examining the notion of “partnership” as it’s used in global health and related fields. All three grow out of Humanistic Perspectives on Global Health Partnerships, a Simpson Center project that gathered scholars across disciplines last year 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. 

Lynn M. Thomas (History) wrote “Of gag rules and global partnerships,” about US policies regarding funding to international organizations that discuss abortion as a family-planning option, unpacking the effects of inconsistent policies and unequal power dynamics.

Danny Hoffman (Anthropology) wrote “African military partnerships in the age of the ‘enemy disease’,” on what military attempts to impose quarantines during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia reveal about relations between the U.S. and African governments. 

Ben Gardner and Ron Krabill (both Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell), wrote “Against the romance of study abroad,” about how study-abroad programs for US students can reinforce old colonial patterns of exploitation while hiding behind a vague ideal of working together. (Gardner and Krabill are leading a new Simpson Center project on building better models of reciprocity among study-abroad programs.)

“Global partnership, as the term is currently used, has become so ubiquitous as to be vacated of meaning,” Gardner and Krabill write. “Nearly any kind of agreement or relationship, contractual or informal, is now being described as a partnership, regardless of the degrees of reciprocity involved.”

The research group looked to Africa Is a Country as an open-access digital publication that would connect their work to broad audiences. Other pieces from the group are forthcoming in the open-access web journal Medicine Anthropology Theory.

The research collaboration continues this year as The Past, Present, and Future of US Global Health Partnerships in Africa, a Simpson Center studio grant that is helping to host Paul Farmer, the Partners in Health co-founder and medical anthropologist and physician. Farmer will visit the UW in...

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Rachel TaylorRachel Lanier Taylor, a UW doctoral candidate in history, has been selected by the Society for History in the Federal Government in Washington, DC, for an internship generating graduate student engagement with federal government history and humanities programs.

Taylor will spend much of winter and spring 2018 working with the organization to develop programs to connect graduate students with relevant programs in the federal government, which is the nation’s largest employer of history PhDs. She will also support work to demystify the hiring process at key federal agencies. (More on the internship program.)

The internship is part of Historians at Work: Building Professional Networks, a project of the Simpson Center’s Next Generation Humanities PhD initiative. The project joins parallel efforts in 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 last summer with the Historic American Buildings Survey, part of the US National Park Service. She previously led the environmental humanities graduate research cluster at the Simpson Center and was a HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) scholar. She is also developing The Digital Dissertator, a public scholarship website partly focused on building community among women dissertators.

Congratulations, Rachel!

Frances McCueFrances McCue (English) has a new book of poetry, Timber Curtain, that collects poems written during the filming of the forthcoming documentary Where the House Was, a film project supported by the Simpson Center.

Both the film and the book memorialize the demolition of the building in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that long housed the literary institution Richard Hugo House. McCue had helped found the house in 1996, itself named after the venerated Northwest poet and UW creative writing alumnus.

The poems in Timber Curtain (Chin Music Press) meditate on the demolition, considering the effect of gentrification in Capitol Hill both as threat and opportunity to artists (Hugo House is relocating to a new building on the same site).

Timber Curtain book cover

The term timber curtain is a coinage of McCue’s for the facades of trees that loggers sometimes leave along roadways to hide the clearcuts behind. She extends the metaphor to the streetfront facades of old buildings that are sometimes preserved when everything behind them is replaced.

McCue is also hosting a conversation on “Turning Archives into Films through Community Engagement” on Tuesday, January 16, 2018, at the Simpson Center. It’s geared toward graduate students and others working with archival research. She’s joined by Where the House Was co-writer Cali Kopczick and by Sarah Salcedo, the producer and co-director of Promised Land, a documentary following the Duwamish and Chinook tribes' history in the Northwest and their ongoing fight for federal recognition.

See the Where the House Was film trailer and read more about Timber Curtain from the English Department and UW News.

Congratulations, Frances!

People raising wooden lighthouseThe most recent two issues of the art-criticism journal FIELD draw extensively on Socially Engaged Art in Japan, a November 2015 conference supported by the Simpson Center and organized by Justin Jesty (Asian Languages & Literatures).

FIELD, with the subtitle “A Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism,” devotes its spring 2017 and fall 2017 issues to essays emerging from the UW conference, which gathered international artists, curators, and scholars to examine the worldwide surge of art crossing boundaries between art and social activism. Participants used Japan's robust activity as a lens into broader questions of art and politics. (Read more in “The Show Goes On: Examining Socially Engaged Art with a Banned Guest”) 

Jesty provides introductory essays to the spring and fall issues of FIELD, which are available online.

Congratulations, Justin!

MercerLeigh Mercer (Spanish & Portuguese Studies) 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, Hispanic Film Programming and the Film Festival Phenomenon, offered in winter 2018, arises from Leigh’s conviction that organizing film festivals can be a valuable form of cultural production. Faculty in area studies and literature and language departments are increasingly asked to organize film series, Leigh says.


Film festivals in particular offer scholars a unique opportunity to connect with broader audiences, and this course trains students in the critical implications of festival organization. Students develop both practical curatorial experience and a greater historical understanding of the film festival as a phenomenon, while also examining what it means to translate their area studies expertise for new publics.        

The cinema of the Hispanic World will be our case study. Students gain a foundation in Spanish and Latin American film history from 1896 to the present, while also connecting with local and international experts in film programming, including personnel at the Guanajuato Film Festival, SIFF, the Seattle Latino Film Festival, the Cervantes Institute, and the Sitges Film Festival. Most importantly, students work throughout our quarter of study in small curatorial groups to prepare a small-scale film festival for Latino high school students in Washington State, with all of the relevant accompanying documentation.

Learn more about the course

The course joins Feminist New Media Studies from Regina Yung Lee (Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies) as new seminars arising from the Reimagining program.

Leigh also serves on the Simpson Center Executive Board and was a member of the 2014-15 Society of Scholars, where she worked on her book project on Spanish cinema.

Congratulations, Leigh!