Letter from the Director

Submitted by Amy R. Peloff on

Dear friends,

Welcome to the start of another exciting year! Last year was a terrific year that ended appropriately with a “Return to the Beehive,” a wonderful celebration in honor of ten years of extraordinary activity as a CHID community. This year builds on the amazing achievements of our students, faculty and staff. Briefly I want to mention a few of those in the CHID community who have recently been recognized for their extraordinary accomplishments.

Phillip Thurtle was awarded a Society of Scholars fellowship last year from the Simpson Center for the Humanities, allowing him to develop his innovating and exciting research on “super-naturalisms.” Using the career of Ed Lewis—Nobel-prize winning scientist and painter—to anchor a discussion of what he shrewdly labels the “gothic moments” of genetics, Phillip offers an inspired and refreshingly concrete way to chronicle the complex histories of the image in (and of) science.

Adam Nocek published an impressive edited collection, The Lure of Whitehead (Minnesota, 2014), making important contributions to contemporary critical theory and scholarship on the politics of life, post-humanism, and much more. Christina Wygant delivered a riveting talk at a packed lecture hall in the Frye Art Museum titled “Empire of Masquerade: Crazy for ‘Mad’ King Ludwig.” This fascinating talk drew on her own research as well as the outstanding study abroad program to Berlin which she co-directs with legal scholar Gregory Guedel. And Erin Clowes’ work with Roma communities at home and abroad was highlighted in an issue of Perspectives, the newsletter for the College of Arts and Sciences. The CHID Legacies of Empires Winter 2014 study abroad program led by Erin and Ruggero Taradel (French and Italian Studies), explored identity and alterity by examining the current crisis of Roma communities in Rome, Budapest and Prague, and offered students a unique opportunity for deep personal, political and intellectual engagement.

In addition to these impressive accomplishments, seventeen of our undergraduate students received awards to conduct original research and to support international and experiential study. Among these many talented students, let me just mention two. After learning about the struggles of Triqui and Mixteco berry pickers just an hour north in the Skagit Valley, David Chen decided that he had to learn more. Working in solidarity with organizers and advocates, he researched and wrote an extraordinary thesis on the ways that religion and ethnicity were part of the social struggles of Indigenous peoples from Latin American in Washington State. Not only did the project win the Harry Bridges Center Award for Best Paper on Labor, it also has circulated widely among the activists, scholars and advocates that David met in his research, all of whom have embraced David for his insights and his commitments to social justice. David was just selected to work with Partners for Health in Peru, the organization founded by Harvard medical anthropologist Paul Farmer. David is currently applying to top-notch medical schools in the US and hopes to also pursue a PhD in Anthropology. 

Another exceptional student, CHID senior Elizabeth Schiffler was awarded the prestigious Milotte Scholarship. This award, which supports “individuals who share their enthusiasm for exploring, chronicling and spreading the magnificence of the wilderness through artistic communication,” is usually capped at $4000, but the committee was so impressed with Elizabeth’s proposal that they increased the scholarship amount to $11,000. Elizabeth was able to develop a creative project drawing on her experience in Phillip Thurtle’s CHID Faroe Islands program: a ballad inspired by the Faroese narrative style, about the importance of understanding the complex and intertwined relationship of humans and nature. As always, our students’ projects demonstrate a wonderful range of scholarly interests and passions. From investigations into molecular gastronomy to explorations of religion and social movements in the Skagit Valley—the work these young scholars produce is impressive and humbling.

Our students have also been recognized through their participation in various kinds of collaborations. For instance, junior Sarah Olson was selected last year to deliver a TEDx talk at the UW on her work in animal studies. Her talk, “Sharing a Vision: Scientists and Animal Rights Activists Working Together,” was an effort to share her lifelong interest in animal ethics and her passion for learning about biotechnology strategies that, Sarah argues, are superior to animal testing in predicting efficacy or toxicity of drugs or cosmetics. She spoke eloquently about the need to develop and fund effective and affordable alternatives to animal testing and about her hope in the possibility of researchers and animal rights activists working together to make alternatives to animal research possible.

CHID students have also participated in the intensive research immersion Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities (which this past summer boasted six CHID students) and worked collaboratively on the beautiful co-authored book TIPS to Study Abroad: Simple Letters for Complex Engagement. This was an intense and joyful collaboration between our very own Anu Taranath and students from her CHID-Honors study abroad program in Bangalore, India, culminating in this publication of beautiful, thought-provoking letters to Things, Ideas, People and Self (TIPS). The book, as well as Anu and her students, contributes greatly to the lively conversations we continue to have in CHID about social justice and critical reflection in global travel.

Conversations over international education and travel have been a hallmark of CHID intellectual life. Over the past year, we have reenergized these conversations and revitalized our programs, asking all CHID program directors to incorporate and foreground critical reflection, academic rigor, and collaborative approaches to study abroad. Naraelle Hohensee and Nicolaas Barr Clingan have done outstanding workin developing a uniquely CHID orientation to study abroad, as well as offering invaluable guidance to students, program directors, and others. We have been very pleased by the overwhelmingly positive response to this, including new partnerships such as the new CHID study abroad program to Martinique on “Ecology and Empire,” scheduled for summer 2015 and led by CHID Affiliate Faculty Rich Watts and Maya Smith from French and Italian Studies.

These new partnerships are exciting and open up many possibilities for connection and collaboration. Along these lines, our list of CHID Affiliate Faculty continues to grow, with the most recent additions of Daniel Bessner, assistant professor of international studies and scholar of cultural and intellectual history, and Gillian Harkins, associate professor of English with research interests in twenty-first century fiction, U.S. popular culture, contemporary cinema, affect studies, and mass incarceration. Last year we remained among the most active units on campus, sponsoring and co-sponsoring speakers such as activist Lauren Ornelas from the Food Empowerment Project, anthropologist Naisargi Dave from the University of Toronto, award-winning Senegalese hip-hop group KEUR-GUI CREW, CHID alum and documentary photographer Matt Lutton, and political scientist Claire Jean Kim who also delivered the Mangels Endowed lecture on her new book, Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age.

This year, CHID is once again at the heart of many kinds of collaborations. Working with the College of the Environment, CHID Affiliate Faculty Shirley Yee (Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies), and Rich Watts (French and Italian), we are bringing Seattle-based artist Chris Jordan to campus. Chris is best known for his large-scale works depicting mass consumption and waste, particularly garbage. His most recent work is a moving film about the impact of waste on albatrosses on Midway Island, and the significant role of emotion—particularly grief—in opening up possibilities of connection with others.

CHID is also part of two regional research collaborations, a Simpson Center Research Cluster on “The Postcolonial Animal: Nature/Culture/Empire,” and a collaboration with American Indian Studies and Canadian Studies on a series of events around the significance of Indigenous ways of knowing. We also continue to work with community organizations through our internship program and in courses that take students outside of the classroom. For example, CHID lecturer Kathryn Gillespie took her summer 2014 CHID class on animal ethics to the Pigs Peace Sanctuary every week of the term. Katie and her course were featured in Seattle’s Evening Magazine and are the focus of a documentary in the works about CHID’s pedagogical innovation and the transformative potential of our courses.

As this fantastic work was taking place inside of CHID, we also took some time to think about some important structural changes that we hope will place CHID on a solid foundation well into the future.To list just two initiatives from last year, we rethought our CHID thesis requirements, which included developing a new course to help students better navigate the challenges of the thesis. Coming up this year, CHID is taking steps to become a competitive major, though doing this in a way consistent with our central values. Our vision of “competitive major” (which is the university’s term for those majors that don’t simply accept all applicants) is not about gatekeeping with GPAs. Instead, we are asking interested students to write a short essay inviting them to think a bit more intentionally about why they want to join our community and reflect on our principles. We still have work to do on the selection process but we have realized the need to put something in place to address the challenges that come with being the second largest major in the humanities with the smallest number of full-time faculty.

There is, of course, so much more ahead, including an upcoming ten-year review of the CHID program, which we hope will provide more opportunities to come together to think about all that we have done and how much we will do in the next ten years, and beyond.

I look forward to seeing you all in the coming weeks and months.


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