Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics: Catalyzing Collaboration

Paul Tubig, right, with South Seattle College mentor Anthony Ferrucci.

Reforming doctoral programs in the humanities has become an increasingly prominent topic of discussion in higher education. Reports from professional organizations such as the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association call for the broadening of career prospects for PhD graduates. They recommend that students be trained in new approaches to scholarship related to digital technologies and public audiences.

In response, the Simpson Center launched Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics in July 2015 with the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The conviction animating this initiative was that doctoral education, especially at a public university, must be guided by a capacious vision of its fundamental purpose: to contribute to the public good. From 2015-2019, the program prepared UW doctoral students in the humanities for this task by meaningfully connecting them to the diverse, access-oriented institutions of higher education in the Seattle District community colleges, and by supporting the development of both doctoral students’ public projects and publicly engaged graduate seminars taught by UW faculty in the humanities.

In 2019, the Simpson Center launched a new iteration of this program—Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics: Catalyzing Collaboration—thanks again to a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The new program builds on the work of the prior grant, continuing to pursue change in doctoral education in the humanities with the goal of reaching beyond academic professional spheres to new publics. It also emphasizes collaboration as a cross-institutional educational good and a scholarly and pedagogical practice that is transferable to other sectors. Catalyzing Collaboration addresses the need for substantial opportunities for doctoral students to practice collaboration within their departments and across institutions, not merely by encouraging it, but by supporting it. Three departments key to the humanities are involved—English, History, and Philosophy—and the program offers support for joint fellowships and collaborative projects across all components of the program instead of single awards to individuals.

Building Partnerships with Two-Year Colleges

Fifty percent of UW graduating majors in the humanities, broadly defined, are transfer students from two-year colleges. These institutions serve nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States, including fifty percent of undergraduates of color and an increasing proportion of low-income students. Two-year colleges primarily serve the communities in which they are located, making them important sites of access and equity in higher education. For these reasons among others, many doctoral students in the humanities aspire to pursue teaching-intensive careers as faculty in two-year colleges.

A core component of Catalyzing Collaboration strengthens relationships between the UW and three key educational institutions in Seattle: North Seattle College, South Seattle College, and Seattle Central College. Doctoral student teams from each of the three participating departments shadow a team of faculty mentors at one of the Seattle District Colleges over the course of an academic year. Community college faculty mentors introduce fellows to their work, their colleagues, and their students. On a limited but regular basis, doctoral students attend classes, faculty meetings, committee meetings, office hours, advising sessions, and other activities of their choice. Recipients of this fellowship commit to 30 hours per quarter and receive $8500 ($2000 disbursable each quarter, $500 for the fall workshop, and $2000 for participation in the culminating summer institute).

Summer Collaborative Fellowships for Graduate Student Public Projects

A second opportunity for doctoral students focuses on collaborative public scholarship. The Collaborative Summer Fellowships for New Public Projects in the Humanities support two-person teams of students in the core humanities disciplines of English, History, and Philosophy to work together as they pursue a public scholarship project. One team from each of the three participating departments will be selected. Recipients of this fellowship will each receive a stipend of $7,500 and an additional research award of $2,000.

Collaborative projects in public scholarship are wide-ranging in form and can also involve collaboration with community members from diverse locations beyond the university campus. Examples of such project-based work include the development of curriculum for prison education programs or K-12 public schools; public-facing digital installations of historical research; and museum exhibits.

Summer Collaborative Fellowships for Faculty-Led Course Development

Lastly, the Summer Collaborative Fellowships for New Graduate Seminars in the Humanities support two-person teams of faculty in the core humanities disciplines of English, History, and Philosophy to work together as they develop new individual graduate seminars that embody the ethos of collaboration while building capacities for publicly engaged scholarship. One team from each of the three participating departments will be selected. Recipients of this fellowship will each receive $7,500 in salary (benefits are included) and an additional research award of $2,000.

The graduate seminars can take many forms, as long as they introduce students to approaches in public scholarship and the work of collaboration. By creating these courses in tandem with each other, colleagues from the same department will, we hope, deepen their commitment to a range of new practices of scholarship in the humanities.

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