Letter from the Chair | Spring 2023

Submitted by Sophia Choto on

Greetings from the Comparative History of Ideas!

As the days get longer, we are all feeling the spirit of renewal very much in the air! 

I write these words just as we have marked our first “in-person” CHID thesis presentations in a very long time. What a gift it was to be able to share the same room and safely breathe the same air (literally conspiring) with an incredible group of students and thesis seminar instructors Annie Dwyer and Nick Barr. Our students presented amazing projects that involve plans to build “an army of cyborgs,” ask why there are no “fat princesses” in Disney movies, explore how to turn “true crime” popular culture into resources for abolitionist projects of liberation, and more! In their presentations, students provided stunning insights into art, popular culture, social media, religion, politics, identity, and thinking with and against the academy. In short, they showed just how much CHID students can do. 

The same week that these students presented their thesis work, another CHID student, Peyton Goodwin, was selected from the thousands of UW students as one of three prestigious President Medalists. In a special ceremony, Peyton received her medal from University President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost Mark Richards. Way to go Peyton! 

We have also been energized by wonderful additions to our staff and faculty. Our new administrator Marthadina Russell (aka Mara) did some magical work in imposing order on our finances and finding resources to fund an amazing set of new CHID courses on themes like Religion and Horror, Black Motion, Public Health and the Humanities, Fake News, and Capitalism and the Senses. Below you can also read her review of fellow staff member and lecturer Nick Barr’s elegant translation of a powerful Dutch memoir. You will also see that Nick below tells another story of renewal: the return of CHID Study Abroad! To mention just one program, Professor María Elena García and I will be taking 20 students to Peru in June as part of the CHID/Honors program, “Arts of Politics: Cultural Agency and Social Movements in Peru.” Peru was hit very hard by the pandemic and is currently the site of ongoing political protests, so we enter that program with care and with the help of Peruvian partners whom we have known for over twenty years. In May, CHID Peru coordinator and award-winning artist Jorge Miyagui will travel from Lima to Seattle for our pre-departure seminars and showcase some of his recent work, which is part of a larger political response of the art community to political violence, #artistascontradictadura. We are excited to welcome Jorge back to Seattle, as are many CHID alums some of whom have known Jorge since the first time we ran the program in 2009. 

I am also pleased to announce the addition of two new outstanding faculty members. In autumn 2023, Professors Louisa Mackenzie and Sudhir Mahadevan will officially join the CHID faculty. Professor Mackenzie will teach a new CHID course on Europe’s Dreams and Nightmares along with courses at the intersections of Queer Studies, Animal Studies, and the politics of popular culture. Professor Mahadevan, who will continue to teach in Cinema and Media Studies, will offer courses the history, methods, and politics of visual media and culture, with a focus on South Asia. 

We are also so grateful for the excellent work our Collaborative Learning and Interdisciplinary Pedagogy (CLIP) Fellows have been doing! The competitive CLIP program invites UW graduate students work in teams of two and design a set of courses around a specific theme. This year, Katia Chaterji (PhD candidate in History) and Dimas Iqbal Romadhon (PhD Candidate in Anthropology) have offered exciting anthropological and historical examinations of climate, disease, and environment in Southeast Asia. Next year, our 2023-24 CLIP Fellows Christopher Chan (Anthropology) and Brittney Frantece (English) will trace the way that dreams and nightmares operate in and through literature, political economy, and algorithms. These courses complement the extraordinary teaching and service already done by our core faculty and part-time instructors. 

I never grow tired of reminding folks that three of our faculty members (Professors García, Thurtle, and Taranath) have received the highest teaching honor that the UW confers, the Distinguished Teaching Award. I sincerely believe that all of my colleagues are always in the running for this award, and I am humbled by the outstanding work they do on campus and in the broader academy. Professor Stephanie Smallwood directs the UW Honors Program, Professor Gary Handwerk directs the UW Program in the Environment, Professor Danny Hoffman serves as the interim director of the Jackson School of International Studies, Professor García is the interim chair of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Louisa Mackenzie has just been elected to serve as the Vice Chair of the UW Faculty Senate! (If it weren’t for CHID faculty, I am not sure that the UW would be able to keep the lights on!) Beyond campus, Professor Chandan Reddy is co-editor of GLQ, the flagship journal in LGBT and Queer Studies, and Professor Jayadev Athreya directs the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences. CHID may be a small department, but we punch way above our weight! 

Finally, it has been wonderful to get a glimpse of the future of CHID by welcoming a new set of CHID majors!  This year, I have had the wonderful experience of collaborating with our award-winning adviser Cynthia Anderson in co-facilitating CHID 101, a course which serves as both an introduction to our interdisciplinary community and also a wonderful form of group advising. As Cynthia notes below, CHID 101 helps all our students feel the sense of community that we cultivate in our department. This past quarter we kicked off CHID 101 with a guest presentation by Tisbe Rinehart, a co-founder of a brand-new registered student organization (RSO) called “Cultivate, Create, Transform,” a name that captures the essence of CHID’s mission. (You can hear an interview with Tisbe and other members of the CHID community in CHID’s podcast, produced by outreach coordinator Lenan Sophia Choto). The new CHID RSO is just the latest example of what our students do so well, they make the university into what it should have always been, a space for mutual support, intense dreaming, and joy. Our students will be hosting regular community events. We hope that you are able to join us!



Tony Lucero

Chair, Comparative History of Ideas