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Simpson Center for the Humanities

Mellon Summer Fellows for New Graduate Seminars in the Humanities

Mellon Fellows for New Graduate Seminars in the Humanities are University of Washington faculty who have participated in Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics (2015-2019) or the subsequent iteration of the initiative, Catalyzing Collaboration (2019-2021). Mellon Summer Fellows for New Graduate Seminars in the Humanities receive support to develop graduate-level seminars with a significant focus on the practice of public scholarship. Beginning in the summer of 2020, the fellowships will be awarded to two-person teams of faculty working on resonating seminars in the core humanities disciplines of English, History, and Philosophy.

The graduate seminars take many forms, but they all introduce students to approaches in public scholarship and the work of collaboration.

2021 Fellows

Anis Bawarshi (English)

Genre as/for Social Action

Anis Bawarshi’s seminar (developed in partnership with Charles LaPorte) introduces the notion of genre and its possibilities for engaging publics. Rhetorical Genre Studies (RGS) examines the ways that genres help create and respond to recurrence, making genres important social and rhetorical constructs. More recent attention to genre uptakes in RGS has shifted the focus of attention from genres as normalizing phenomena to the dynamic forces that mobilize knowledge and action between genres. This shift opens possibilities for thinking of genre not only as social action but also of how genre can be deployed for social action, including ways that new genres or reconfigurations of genres can help transform how we relate to, engage with, and mobilize publics. Topics the seminar explores include imagining ways to make genre knowledge (and its complex formations) public and useful to local communities; helping students develop methods for studying genres in their public contexts; and exploring how existing genres often manage boundaries that separate academic and public spheres and how genres can be changed or new genres developed that enable more interactive and reciprocal relations between universities and various publics.

Charles LaPorte (English)

Poetry and Other Public Writing: or, Literary Genre Theory Today

Charles LaPorte (in partnership with Anis Bawarshi) will re-design his course on literary genre theory in an attempt to better acknowledge and reflect the public-facing nature of much literature and literary scholarship. In literary studies, scholars sometimes fail to consider the public instances of their pet subjects, or they emphasize private experience à la John Stuart Mill’s famous description of poetry as emotion “confessing itself to itself in moments of solitude.” (Ideas like this one don’t help us much with poems like Amanda Gorman’s 2021 contribution to President Biden’s inauguration ceremony: “The Hill We Climb.”) Then, too, much of today’s best literary criticism is found not in scholarly journals but in high-end journalism, both in paper and online. The liveliest parts of the literary world may often be found beyond the walls of the academy.

Linda Nash and Lynn M. Thomas (History)

Environmental Histories in the Anthropocene

What is the Anthropocene and the role of history within it? What are the stakes of telling environmental histories in the 21st century? What kinds of history are needed? In this co-taught course, Nash and Thomas approach the Anthropocene by asking students to consider how histories of colonialism, race, inequality, capitalism, and consumerism are deeply intertwined with histories of the environment. Students will study and research the environmental and social/political histories of our surrounding region—the Pacific Northwest—and one site, farther afield, in Africa. In both cases, students will collaborate on “public-facing” projects in order to reach broader audiences and to show how thinking more deeply, broadly, and comparatively about the past might lead to a better understanding of our planetary predicament.

Sara Goering and Michael Blake (Philosophy)

Ethics Matters and Ethics Capstone

The Ethics Matters seminar (ETHICS 511) and the Ethics Capstone course (ETHICS 513) are part of the UW Graduate Certificate in Ethics, which is designed to help graduate students outside of philosophy become familiar with foundational philosophical content in ethics and justice theory, to help prepare them for pursuing ethics-related scholarship in their own fields of study. The Ethics Matters seminar covers moral concepts such as moral status, autonomy, trust, respect, integrity, vulnerability and forgiveness. In the public humanities-infused version, students will engage with philosophical writing designed for a broader audience and develop their own work in ways more intentionally and explicitly engaged with pressing moral problems. The new seminar will retain foundational writings but will put them in conversation with first-personal dilemmas faced by professionals navigating their ethical duties, and how they have discussed these matters in public discourse. In the Capstone course, student projects will include assignments designed for public-facing venues, whether in print, radio, or video (e.g., the Conversation, Op-eds, YouTube, etc.).

2020 Fellows

Arbella Bet-Shliman (History)

Writing Histories of Middle Eastern Immigration to the Puget Sound

Arbella Bet-Shliman’s seminar (developed in partnership with Liora Halperin) will approach the history of Arab immigrant communities in the Puget Sound region through broader histories of Levantine, Iraqi, and North African migration to the Americas. In earlier waves of migration around the turn of the twentieth century, immigrants from these regions tended to describe themselves with terms specific to their areas of origin, such as "Syrian," and many were from indigenous non-Arabophone communities. Over the course of the twentieth century, these immigrants developed a largely shared diaspora identity of being Arab and, thus, Arab American. That identity was racially intertwined with whiteness in the United States, a status that the first wave of Syrian immigrants fought to obtain in a Jim Crow-influenced legal and social system. But the “Arab American” identity has declined as a site of political mobilization and humanitarian work in the Seattle area. Therefore, in this seminar, students will seek to understand—and produce original research on—what it means and has meant to be “Arab” in Seattle through the study of Middle Eastern migration to the Americas.

Stephanie Clare (English)

Feminist and Queer Publics

Stephanie Clare’s seminar (developed in partnership with Jesse Oak Taylor) surveys contemporary public-facing writing in feminist and queer studies, highlighting writing in multiple forms and modes including blogs, websites, op-eds, monographs (including “auto-theory”), and essays. It foregrounds scholars in the field who are explicitly interested in engaging beyond the academy, both by bringing their work to non-academic publics and also by joining and building communities of thinkers that are not based in the academy. Students will explore public-facing platforms and public-facing initiatives such as the Op-Ed project, The Conversation, Signs’ “Ask a Feminist” series, Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons, Public Books, the NYC Trans Oral History Project, and NYU Press’s Think Broadly series. The course also will task students with practicing forms of public-facing writing, primarily through a course blog that features responses to readings, co-authored essays that will be submitted for publication, and short pieces of “auto-theory.” Students will consider what it means to produce literary and cultural criticism in community, and further venture to other sites of feminist/queer engagement to consider writing in the context of activist organizations such as “Queers for Economic Justice,” the “National Domestic Workers Alliance,” and Black Lives Matter.

Liora Halperin (Israel Studies)

Writing Histories of the Israeli Diaspora in the Puget Sound

Liora Halperin’s seminar (developed in partnership with Arbella Bet-Shlimon) will study local Jewish Israelis, a community disproportionately represented in the high-tech and engineering fields and tied by virtue of their origins to local debates about Israel/Palestine. Traditional Jewish notions of homeland and diaspora would suggest that Jews, once they leave Israel, simply become diaspora Jews, but in fact Israelis constitute a distinct community whose interests and needs are often at odds with more established American Jewish communities. Students will explore the complications of Israeli identity through historical scholarship, academic analysis of sources from the Washington State Jewish Historical Archives, and interviews with Israelis involved in campus and community groups, some of which explicitly take (a range of) positions on Israel/Palestine politics and some of which adopt an “apolitical” or cultural approach to Israeli identity. This seminar provides a special opportunity to engage a diverse range of local Israelis and confront the challenges of narrating the histories of a community tied to and implicated in--but thousands of miles away from--a particularly contested country.

Colin Marshall (Philosophy)

Respect, Rhetoric, and the Psychology of Persuasion

Colin Marshall’s seminar (developed in partnership with Ian Schnee) explores how ethically permissible persuasion can be accomplished, with particular attention to issues of moral respect, the ethics of rhetoric, and relevant work in social psychology (in particular, the Elaboration Likelihood Model and Terror Management Theory). Students will produce ethical and psychological analyses of cases of attempted persuasion from outside the academy and propose a respectful intervention in some important non-academic debate.

Ian Schnee (Philosophy)

Conspiracy Theories, Propaganda, and Epistemic Vice: The Philosophy of Misinformation

Ian Schnee’s seminar (developed in partnership with Colin Marshall) explores how we are easily influenced and manipulated by technology, media, and misinformation. Course topics include the epistemology and ethics of disagreement, ethical and epistemic frameworks for analyzing propaganda, philosophical views of conspiracy theories, and the ethics of persuasive technology. Based on philosophical and psychological work on intellectual vices, students will create strategies for recognizing and combating misinformation. They also will practice public philosophy; for example, in the unit on propaganda film, students will create voice-over video commentaries analyzing a propaganda film, and post them on the course’s YouTube channel.

Jesse Oak Taylor (English)


Jesse Oak Taylor’s seminar (developed in partnership with Stephanie Clare) will offer an introduction to the methods and practice of ecocriticism. The organizing principle of this seminar will be ecocriticism as opposed to more open-ended terms like “the environmental humanities” in part because it foregrounds the political and ethical practice of criticism. “Eco” has its roots in “oikos,” or dwelling. Hence, “ecocriticism” is not simply a method of interpreting texts or other cultural artifacts, but rather of dwelling critically. We will devote particular attention to the question of what it means to practice ecocriticism in this particular geohistorical context, and how our analyses operate across multiple intersecting scales, from the particularities of a given text or class discussion to the “deep time” of the planet. Our attention will be focused, however, on what it means to “do” ecocriticism in Seattle. Discussions will include the history of environmental activism in the Pacific Northwest as well as histories of settler colonialism, how continental designations such as Pacific Rim or Ring of Fire might intersect (or depart from) other modes of organizing literary study, and the close proximity of urban and “wilderness” ecosystems in the region. The course will also include opportunities for fieldwork, both independently and in groups.  

2019 Fellows

Jason Groves (Germanics)

Public Environmental Humanities

In addition to surveying how public engagement is becoming an increasingly prominent aspect of teaching, research, and publication within the environmental humanities, this seminar invites and assists students to connect their research to publics and counterpublics through collaborations with artists, scientists, activists, cultural institutions, and community organizations within and beyond the Salish Sea region.

Christine Harold (Communication)

Featuring Capitalism: A Rhetorical History of American Capitalism in Film

This seminar explores the ways in which capitalism, a dominant rhetorical discourse in the U.S., has been both perpetuated and challenged capitalism throughout the history of Hollywood film. Each week, students will screen a film and read critical theories of capitalism from its era. We will position both film and theory as rhetorical artifacts, cultural symptoms that can tell us something about a particular moment in the evolution of American capitalism and the often uneasy relationships between rhetoric, representation, democracy, community, consumerism, and labor.  The seminar will culminate in a student-led film and discussion series and a curriculum website freely available for educators.

Candice Rai (English)

Rhetoric and Urban Justice

This course is conceived as a community-engaged and action-oriented public rhetoric, research, and writing seminar focused on issues of urban equity and justice. The course engages the City of Seattle’s Race & Social Justice and Equity & Environment Initiatives through partnerships with local organizations who work within these initiatives on various interrelated issues, such as housing and affordability, urban environmental justice, education, and food security and transportation in Seattle.

2018 Fellows

Richard Watts (French & Italian)

Translation and Its Publics

In the summer of 2018, Rich Watts will be developing a graduate seminar entitled “Translation and Its Publics.” The course is a multilingual, cross-departmental graduate seminar that emerged in response to two primary objectives: 1) to increase collaboration across modern language department PhD programs; and 2) to reposition translation as public practice, given that translation can both expand publics laterally and, conversely, delimit the terms and modes of public discourse (as in imperial and nation-building projects). In highlighting the “public” dimension of translation, this seminar provides students with theoretical grounding and applied practice in translation while also creating authentic opportunities for “public translation” assistance for low-income individuals and/or community organizations through a “public translation collective,” the public-facing outcome of the seminar.

Amanda Doxtater (Scandinavian Studies)

Cinema and the Public Institution

This new graduate seminar will introduce students to methods and practices in public scholarship by first considering the national film institutes in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland as models for public humanities. Drawing from their own particular expertise in cinema, students will then work collectively to curate an international film series titled, Going Public: Cinema and the Museum for Seattle’s new Nordic Museum in Ballard, opening in May 2018. The course, along with its resulting programming, will combine local and international cinema cultures to encourage new cinema publics in the institutional space of the museum.

Yomi Braester (Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media)

Scholars as Partners and Leaders in Cinephile Communities

This seminar will give students hands-on experience in curating festivals, film series, archives, and collections. Such interchange stands not only to integrate theoretical scholarship in the daily fabric of film-going communities but also to allow for cinephile activism. Students will understand the politics of curating, by working with academic programs, private-sectors sponsors, and governmental foundations, in the US as well as emerging hubs of international festivals and film archives.

2017 Fellows

Carmen Gonzalez (Communication)

Community-Based Research Methods

This re-designed course on community-based research methods identifies ways to broker relationships between community leaders and graduate students to forge collaborative partnerships. This course examines various models of community-based research with a focus on the methodological frameworks that guide such work. Students review and critically analyze research projects that involve partnerships with non-profits, foundations, and other community organizations.

Stephen Groening (Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media)

Public Spheres, Public Media: Activism, Community, Networks

This new graduate seminar for the PhD Certificate in Cinema & Media Studies takes one of the most influential ideas in media studies, cultural studies, and political philosophy—the public sphere—and examines how it might help us understand new ways of engaging publics and creating community via new media forms. Students will use digital media tools and platforms to present their research and scholarship to non-academic publics.

Regina Yung Lee (Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies)

Feminist New Media Studies

This graduate seminar introduces students to methods and practices in public scholarship through a collective online curatorial project for digital objects and their patterns of dispersal. The course reimagines the PhD as a program of study and engagement for the purposes of knowledge creation along intersectional feminist lines of thought, providing both theoretical frameworks and practical applications for scholarly work as it relates to populist developments in online information processing and circulation.

2016 Fellows

María Elena Garcia (Comparative History of Ideas) and Louisa Mackenzie (French & Italian Studies)

The Animals Are Coming

This project proposes a team-taught graduate seminar in Intersectional Animal Studies to build from and model trans-departmental, intersectional, and public scholarship in the humanities. A co-taught seminar can provide a fulcrum for interdisciplinary conversations and approaches from which students, faculty, and the public alike can learn. We find that a powerful way to reimagine the humanities PhD is to explore the ways in which the humanities have moved beyond the constraints of the human.

Gillian Harkins (English)

Law and Literature Public Scholarship Course

This proposed English Department graduate course promotes public scholarship as both outcome and domain of inquiry. This course asks how humanities research engages various “publics” and how that engagement can be made legible beyond the university. The specific focus of the class will be on “Law and Literature,” an interdisciplinary humanities field engaging in methods of reading and analysis forged between legal and literary studies.

Leigh Mercer (Spanish & Portuguese Studies)

Spanish Film Programming and the Film Festival Phenomenon

Faculty in area-studies departments are increasingly asked to organize film series, design exhibits, and assist in the administration of archives, and yet PhD programs in literary and cultural studies departments rarely prepare graduate students for such endeavors. Film festivals in particular offer scholars an opportunity to connect with broader audiences, and this course seeks to train graduate students in the critical implications of festival organization. Students will gain 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.