Program History

The Comparative History of Ideas Program is in its fourth decade of existence at the University of Washington. It has been widely recognized for its record of curricular and pedagogical innovation, and is consistently mentioned in University reports and brochures as an exemplary interdisciplinary program, but its institutional place remains undefined and its funding uncertain.

CHID began as a tiny program in the College of Arts and Sciences under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the late 1970s. John Toews was hired as a modern cultural historian by the History Department in 1979 with the assumption that he would become Director of the program as soon as he was granted tenure. He remained Director of the program from the time of his promotion in 1981 until 2010 (he continues to teach for CHID as one of our core faculty). The program gradually grew in size and visibility during the 1980s, under the protective academic umbrella and with the administrative support of the Comparative Literature Program. The required Junior Colloquium (CHID 390) and many of the foundational, cross-listed courses in what used to be Group A of the curriculum were developed during this period.

In the early 1990s the program was transferred to the jurisdiction of the university’s Dean of Undergraduate Education, where it remained until 1998, when it was transferred back to the College as an Independent Program in the Humanities. Under the leadership of James Clowes, a charismatic Teaching Assistant (TA) and Lecturer, who became Associate Director in 1994, the program developed and consolidated its characteristic institutional shape as an exemplary, collaborative, student-centered “Learning Community,” and rapidly became a leader in the development of innovative international programs and exchanges for undergraduates.

CHID is not the result of a pre-determined plan, but the product of an evolutionary development of experimental practices and it has flourished under a very light burden of administrative supervision. The interplay of faculty cooperation, staff commitment and student involvement is at the core of the program and cannot be taken for granted. As we plan for the future we are especially concerned not to lose the interdisciplinary, cooperative and interactive elements or the freedom to evolve and change that have given the program its vitality.


1978           NEH Grant to create CHID Program awarded to a group of UW faculty members, including Leroy Searle (English), Hal Opperman (Art History), Eugene Webb (Comparative Religion), Hazard Adams (English), and Tom Hankins (History).

1981           John Toews named Director of the CHID Program.

1984           John Toews receives MacArthur Fellowship.

1989           Jim Clowes hired as CHID’s first teaching assistant. He also acted as the CHID curriculum reviewer, adviser, and student organizer.

1991           Jim Clowes hired as CHID’s Associate Director.

1992           CHID’s interdisciplinary undergraduate journal interSections is first published.  Organized and edited by undergraduate volunteers from the CHID Program, interSections showcases poetry, prose, and scholarly work as well as original artwork produced by undergraduates at the University of Washington. The journal is committed to providing a forum for the free expression of intellectual ideas and inquiry that promotes the continued growth of interdisciplinary scholarship on campus.

1995           CHID’s first study abroad program is run; the location is Rome.

1995           CHID 496: “Focus Group” is added to the CHID curriculum

1995           CHID 497: “Peer Facilitation” is added to the CHID curriculum

1996           CHID runs first Prague study abroad program.

1998-99      A senior thesis is made a requirement for the major.

1998           Phillip Thurtle is hired as CHID program manager. Duties include undergraduate advising and managing study abroad programs.

1999           CHID’s first study abroad program in Cape Town, South Africa.

2000           CHID offers one of the first disability studies courses at the University of Washington.

2000           CHID receives the University of Washington Brotman Award for instructional excellence. The award recognizes collaboration within and among departments, programs and groups to improve the quality of undergraduate education.

2000-01      A CHID focus group in 2000 published “Rethinking the University: Final Report” after a sustained examination of a university education as seen through an undergraduate lens. This report was presented to the UW President Richard McCormick, and some of its recommendations ultimately made their way into the standard speeches delivered by university administrators about the enhancement of undergraduate education. The process of self-reflection on the nature of the university was given more permanent, institutional form a year later in the course CHID 210: “The University and Ways of Knowing,” which is now offered on an annual basis by Jim Anthony at the School of Education.

2001           CHID’s first study abroad program to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

2002           CHID’s first study abroad program to the Republic of Cyprus.

2002           The DIALOGUE Project, an organization of CHID students and alumni dedicated to fostering a culture of international awareness on campus and within the community, is established under the direction of Jim Clowes. Its aim was to create a sustainable network of students, community leaders, and organizations dedicated to facilitating dialogue across difference.

2002-03      Jim Clowes develops the idea for Exploration Seminars. CHID runs the first five of these programs in Summer 2003.

2003           Tyler Fox (CHID ’99) leaves CHID; Theron Stevenson (CHID ’02) is hired to take over the management of CHID international programs.

2003           The DIALOGUE Project hosted an international conference: “Shifting Borders, Changing Spaces.” It featured an international panel including Professor Christine Crumrine of American University in Beirut, Lebanon, Heba Morayef from American University in Beirut, and presentations by a group of students from Hazelwood Integrated College in Belfast, Northern Ireland. UW faculty led sessions on issues of international conflict and modes of dialogue with Professor Clark Speed presenting on “Dialogue Within the Dialogue: The War in Sierra Leon” and Professor Frederick Lorenz presenting on “Kosovo: The United Nations Missions and Prospect for Peace.” Intiman Theater also led an interactive presentation for high school students. Approximately 120 people attended this event with a variety of participants, including students and faculty from UW, Roosevelt High School, and Brewster High School, as well as members of the surrounding Seattle community.

2003           CHID students publish the first issue of The Anthology Project, a journal that records both the struggles and joys of the personal transformation that can occur with reflective travel. Its first volume—Letters Home—appeared in Spring 2003.

2003           CHID students organized a benefit show at the Crocodile Cafe to raise money for the CHID discretionary fund and to reconnect with local alumni. The Long Winters, a successful local band headed by CHID alumnus John Roderick, donated all proceeds from the event.

2003           The James D. Clowes Award for the Advancement of Learning Communities is established in honor of CHID Associate Director Jim Clowes. It recognizes a faculty or staff member who transforms undergraduate learning at the UW by creating or sustaining learning communities among students.

2004           Jim Clowes passed away on March 1, 2004, after a 7-month struggle with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

2004           May 15, 2004, The DIALOGUE Project organized its second annual conference: “Rethinking ‘American’” Three focused sessions encouraged students, educators, and community members to question what it means to be “American” and explore dominant national narratives on the American experience. In opening up a space to discuss the changing significance of American identities, the DIALOGUE Project hoped to create a forum through which to explore how national identity is interpreted and reconstituted by government structures, grassroots movement, and international perspectives.

2004           In recognition of its efforts to promote international understanding the DIALOGUE Project was awarded the 2004 Frank Shigemura Prize from the Foundation for International Understanding (FIUTS).

2004           CHID alumnus Kevin Philbin worked with current students and other recent alumni on another fundraising event, “Swarming the Beehive,” a multi-media showcase of work by current students and friends of CHID. A dazzling display of creative student work, including 8 films, 2 plays, acrobatic dance, poetry reading, and many musical numbers raised more than $6000.

2004           The University awarded the S. Sterling Munro Public Service Award to James Clowes. This award is presented annually to the UW faculty member who most demonstrates exemplary leadership in promoting service learning and community partnership projects.

2004           CHID Administrator Faith Hines and CHID Lecturer Kari Tupper leave the University. Amy Peloff becomes Assistant Director of CHID.

2004           Phillip Thurtle returns to CHID as a Visiting Assistant Professor.

2005           CHID hires our first full-time advisor, Kanna Hudson (CHID ’05).

2005           Phillip Thurtle is hired as our first full-time faculty member.

2005-06      CHID 260: “(Re)Thinking Diversity” was developed and taught by Jeanette Bushnell and a group of undergraduate and graduate students.

2006           Cynthia Anderson (CHID ’06) replaces Kanna as our undergraduate advisor. Laura Marquez (CHID ’05) becomes CHID’s first fiscal specialist.

2007           Sylvia Kurinsky leaves CHID and Tim Cahill takes over as the CHID international programs assistant.

2007           Phillip Thurtle receives tenure and is promoted to Associate Professor.

2008           María Elena García joins the CHID faculty as Assistant Professor.

2010           John Toews steps down as Director of CHID; Phillip Thurtle is named the new Director.

2013          María Elena García takes over as the Director of CHID.

2014          CHID hosts Return to the Beehive, an evening of mingling, drinks, music, stories, performances, and connecting with Chiddies.