Undergraduate Research Program

Summer Institute in the Arts & Humanities

Students discussing research on the grass

The Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities provides a unique opportunity for selected undergraduates to earn full-time, academic credit through immersion in scholarly research with accomplished scholars and peers. Bringing together four faculty and twenty students in plenary, seminar and tutorial-style sessions, the Institute encourages mutual learning as well as independent thought.

The institute was created by the Undergraduate Research Program in collaboration with the Simpson Center for the Humanities in response to student demand for opportunities to engage in scholarly work at the undergraduate level. Conversations with and surveys of faculty in the humanities led to the concept of an intensive summer research program that would bring faculty and students together to explore an interdisciplinary theme.

The Summer Institute offers a research opportunity for undergraduates that provides them the intensive training and environment in which to pursue individual research. This scholarly experience occurs in the context of a group of students working on related projects with faculty who offer expertise from disciplinary and interdisciplinary points of view.

The goals for the Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities are to increase the number of undergraduates doing research in the humanities by providing an intensive research opportunity for humanities and arts students; to engage humanities and arts faculty in research with undergraduates; to create tools for faculty to introduce individuals and groups of students to scholarly research; to establish a community of undergraduate arts and humanities scholars; and to create a forum for humanities undergraduates to present their scholarly work.

Participants are selected through an open, competitive application process and are provided a scholarship to participate in the program. Student participants develop individual, original research ideas related to an interdisciplinary theme, create a scholarly research paper or project, work through a faculty and peer critique process and formally present their work to their colleagues and the larger community at a closing symposium.

Be sure to read Phillip Thurtle’s 2005 Summer Institute Symposium closing remarks on the value of undergraduate research in the arts and humanities below.

The Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities at the University of Washington is sponsored by Undergraduate Academic Affairs, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, the Office of Research , UW Educational Outreach, the Undergraduate Research Program, and the Mary Gates Endowment for Students.

UW Faculty on the Institute

“The Value of Undergraduate Research in Arts & Humanities”

Closing Remarks for the 2005 UW Summer Symposium in the Arts and Humanities
Phillip Thurtle, Assistant Professor, Comparative History of Ideas, University of Washington
Thursday, August 11th, 2005

I’m proud to work at a university that values undergraduate research in the arts and humanities. At most universities, when research opportunities arise for students they are typically in the sciences. Because of this, many of us don’t know what undergraduate research in the humanities looks like. This is a shame because research in the arts and humanities has different goals, different outcomes, places different demands on students, and offers different types of opportunities for those who undertake and witness it. As our society becomes increasingly oriented to the awesome power of the sciences it becomes more important, not less, to encourage research in the humanities amongst our students.

So what does research in the arts and humanities offer? This question is at once easy to answer and hard to convey the full importance of. For me, original research changes lives. The best research touches us, even draws us into a new ways of inhabiting our world, and makes the world and us larger. In the theme of this year’s summer institute, original research can take a world that has become commonplace and make it strangely new again. It does this by supplying novel explanatory frameworks. It does this by pointing to new and special occurrences that we might not have noticed. And it can do this by revealing new patterns in how the world itself is organized. Once it does this, however, an amazing thing occurs. The research opens up new concepts, territories, and spaces for explorations. If I can steal a theme from Comparative History of Ideas student Jennifer Stuller’s presentation, if magic is creating something from nothing, then what you have witnessed today is a little bit of magic.

The magic of research in the arts and humanities focuses the big issues of life and make them perceivable, even personal. In doing so, it transforms those who are willing and able to be touched by it.

Today you have seen how 19 students have risen to this tremendous task. But what you have not seen is the hard but rewarding process that brought them to this goal. These students had to literally become a stranger to themselves and others in order to see something never seen before. They then had the to find the words to describe what they saw. Perhaps “finding words” does not adequately convey what many of these students had to go through. Some learned entirely new mediums for expression. Some learned new software programs, some had to master equipment they never used before. This involved long hours of training. Finally they had to go through the trying process of organizing their thoughts to clearly express this new vision. It has been difficult for each of these students but there is no shortcut for good humanities and arts research because becoming a stranger involves taking risks. Existing in the everyday only ensures that you will bring back everyday insights. Because of their intellectual courage and hard work, these students just made our world a bit bigger.

I don’t have time to tell you all the stories from the institute, in fact I only intimately know the stories of those I mentored. But a few of these will help you understand what all of the students went through this summer to present what you have seen today.

I’ve seen a student plunge into a painful family predicament to find hope where there was none before. In doing so, she helped rewrite a new chapter for her life and fundamentally changed how many of us view the role of hope in communication.

I’ve seen a student wrestle with what it means to live in a body and receive impressions of the world from her senses. I’ve seen this student find a key thinker that has given her the vocabulary to express thoughts that she did not even know she could articulate and in doing so this student came to grips with what it means to return magic to a world that sorely needs it.

Numerous times I’ve seen students wrestle with a traumatic secret or a half-articulated impulse and, through the very simple tools of studied reading, writing, speaking, and making art, open up new futures for themselves and others. If we are going to live in a world that is creative, equitable, and kind, we will need the work of these students and all those who follow after them. Please join me then, in thanking these students for the passion, academic rigor, and elegance expressed today. Also, please join me in thanking Undergraduate Academic Affairs and especially the office of Undergraduate Research for allowing these students this opportunity in the first place and the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities and their mission for supporting research in the humanities. As we have seen today, the world is already a better place because of these efforts.