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Scholarship in Public: Dialogues with Kathleen Woodward By Rachel Arteaga and Ivette Bayo Urban

Scholarship in Public: Dialogues with Kathleen Woodward By Rachel Arteaga and Ivette Bayo Urban

By Rachel Arteaga and Ivette Bayo Urban


 Kathleen Woodward, Lockwood Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English at the University of Washington, has served as Director of the Walter Chapin Simpson Center of the Humanities since 2000. She is a member of the Steering Committee of HASTAC, and has served on the boards of a number of national scholarly organizations. She is the author of, most recently, Statistical Panic: Cultural Politics and Poetics of the Emotions (2009), and has published essays in the broad crossdisciplinary domains of the emotions, women and aging, and technology and culture. Woodward is currently focused on a new initiative, Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics, a four-year grant program funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that supports public scholarship and builds connections between two-year colleges and doctoral education at the University of Washington.

There is a long historical tradition of the democratic impulse in higher education in the United States, and we need to reinvigorate that founding vision – it is both noble and pragmatic – of service to the public and work with the public.” –Kathleen Woodward, “The Future of the Humanities—in the present & in public” (2009)

As doctoral students at the University of Washington, we have been in ongoing dialogues with Kathleen Woodward over a number of years, interpersonally, through her writings, and in the conversations and collaborations sponsored by the Simpson Center for the Humanities on our campus.

For the “HASTAC Interviews” Collection, we turned to Professor Woodward’s many articles on the humanities, in which she anticipates and answers the two questions at the heart of the interviews project:    

In her 2009 article “The Future of the Humanities—in the present & in public,” Woodward calls for us to consider the ways in which “the digital humanities and the public humanities forcefully intersect.” This is one way that the fields of literary and cultural studies, among many others, are changing. When we think through the possibilities that are created by public scholarship, we must also consider questions of open access, circulation, and audience – questions that increasingly cite the digital. And when we consider the work of digital humanities, not least in defining its evolving concerns, it is equally important to think about the public stakes of that work. 

As for the most exciting aspects of the future of the humanities and higher education, it is fair to say that Woodward has turned her attention to the two-year college. Her most recent publication, “We Are All Non-Traditional Learners Now: Community Colleges, Long-Life Learning, and Problem-solving Humanities for the Public Good,” in the collection A New Deal for the Humanities, takes up the value of these institutions in the landscape of higher education in the United States. She characterizes community colleges as “highly adaptable and expansive institutions,” noting that they serve “almost half of all undergraduate students,” as well as “fifty percent of undergraduates of color in the U.S.” They are crucial sites of educational opportunity. And, she writes, PhD granting humanities departments should “encourage interest in community colleges” among their doctoral students. This is one of the central goals of the Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics program that Woodward established, with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in July of 2015.

Professor Woodward’s leadership at the Simpson Center is visionary; it breaks new ground just as traditional research in the humanities has always done (and Woodward has written no small number of books and articles in that academic tradition). In short, she is instrumental in the creation of spaces that allow for faculty and graduate students to undertake transformative work in humanities scholarship – often, in the public and digital humanities.

Our participation in Simpson Center programs, from 1-credit microseminars to the Certificate in Public Scholarship, have shaped and motivated our research, teaching, and service. And Professor Woodward’s commitment to our intellectual and professional development, including her support of our work as HASTAC Scholars, has helped us to define our own goals within the humanities, publics and higher education.

Ivette: I recall my first interactions with Professor Woodward.  If it hadn’t been for her inquiry, motivation and support I wouldn’t have thought it possible for me, a doctoral candidate, to propose and teach one of the first FemTechNet Distributed Open Collaborative Courses (DOCC) offered at the University of Washington campus.  My understanding of publics has undoubtedly been shaped by conversations with Professor Woodward.  Yet despite her distinguished reputation and accomplishments, she has a way of inspiring and making you feel heard, while pushing you to expand your thinking.  Professor Woodward invokes the kinds of intellectual dialogues that do not just happen by academic researchers or take place in academic spaces, but the kinds of service and work with publics that engages all levels of expertise. 

Rachel: I couldn’t agree more with Ivette. It would be difficult to overstate the important role that Professor Woodward has served in my intellectual and professional life throughout my graduate studies. I am currently completing a dissertation on affect theory and religious traditions in American literature under her guidance, a project that would have been well beyond my reach without her incisive questions to push the work forward. And alongside this research, I have had the opportunity to work with her on public scholarship and cross-institutional partnerships at the Simpson Center for the Humanities as Assistant Program Director for the Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics program. The fellowships that it makes possible—for doctoral students to shadow faculty mentors at two-year colleges and to undertake new projects in public scholarship; and for UW faculty to design new graduate seminars in the public humanities—shift national discussions on graduate education into action. That’s the kind of work I want to support, and it requires the kind of leadership that Professor Woodward exemplifies.       

HASTAC is a point of connection for the scholarly community of practice that the Simpson Center convenes and supports. Its ethos of collaboration encourages HASTAC Scholars to network—in the best sense of that word—to create, and to dynamically expand our research and teaching within and beyond our campus.



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