Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics

Professors talk in seminar room

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, changes in degree programs often emphasize either innovative scholarly methods and forms or diversifying graduate-student professional development. A new program at the Simpson Center targets both of these priorities.

Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics—launched in July 2015 with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—has three basic components. First, it develops connections between the University of Washington and two-year colleges in the Seattle District. Second, it offers summer fellowships for doctoral students to pursue public scholarship projects. Finally, it provides support for UW faculty members to develop graduate seminars that incorporate the public humanities.

Connecting with Two-Year Colleges

The program establishes a partnership between the UW and three key educational institutions in Seattle: North Seattle College, South Seattle College, and Seattle Central College. Six UW graduate students in the humanities are paired with faculty mentors in their disciplines from these Seattle District Colleges. These Mellon Fellows for Reaching New Publics shadow their faculty mentors, going to class, attending department meetings, sitting in on advising sessions, and occasionally co-teaching their courses.

This collaboration sheds light on the increasingly vital role of two-year colleges in higher education. Two-year colleges in the United States serve nearly half of all undergraduates, including 50 percent of undergraduates of color and an increasing proportion of low-income students. At the UW, 50 percent of graduating majors in the humanities are transfer students from two-year colleges. The fellows learn not only from their mentors, but also from the diverse learners who define these colleges: students who have a wealth of life experience.

Summer Fellowships for Graduate Students

A second opportunity for graduate students focuses on public scholarship. The Summer Fellowships for Public Projects in the Humanities support graduate student research projects that collaborate with or otherwise meaningfully engage public audiences. Four fellowships are available each year of the grant.

Projects in public scholarship are wide-ranging in form and can involve members of the community from diverse locations beyond the university campus. Examples of such project-based work include the development of college curriculum for prison education programs; public-facing digital installations of historical research; and museum exhibits.

Faculty Course-Development Funds

Lastly, the Summer Fellowships for New Graduate Seminars in the Humanities support the development of new courses by UW faculty in the humanities for doctoral students who are in the coursework stage of their degree programs. Each new course will have a significant public scholarship component. Three faculty are selected in each year of the grant. 

Faculty will not only present scholarship differently in the classroom, they will also create coursework that asks students to learn methods and approaches in public scholarship. 

Questions? Contact Annie Dwyer, Assistant Program Director for Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics, at or 206.221.3191.

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