Welcome to the June edition of Masterly Musings! In this issue we features stories on MAIS Hooding Ceremony and Commencement, the West Coast Liberal Studies Symposium that was hosted by MAIS and UW Tacoma, and a “faculty spotlight” feature on the program’s founding faculty coordinator, Dr. Sam Parker. In current student news we check in with three MAIS students who are currently abroad – whatever are they up to?!? We also offer some preliminary information about the new cohort of students who will begin the program in Autumn 2017. Finally, our Graduate Program Coordinator Dr. Larry Knopp wraps up the year with a review of recent program accomplishments and some personal thoughts. Please continue to discover what we’ve been up to these past several weeks!
MAIS Hooding and Commencement
Congratulations are in order for the MAIS Class of 2017! This year’s MAIS graduates completed theses, projects and practicums addressing the gentrification of Tacoma, nonprofits and education, HIV and art, education as a human right, structural racism and prisons, museum studies, and gender issues in sports and competition. On behalf of the MAIS program, we’d like to wish our recent graduates every success as they embark upon their new adventures. Keep reading here as well for any updates they may share. Well done, everyone, and again, congratulations!
From left to right: Courtney Choi, William Towey, Scarlett and Liz-Wren-Staples Madison Gridley, Liz Wren-Staples and Jessica Warner.
William Towey and Maddy Gridley at UW Tacoma’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony, June 14, 2017. Photo courtesy of William Towey.
West Coast Liberal Studies Symposium
During the weekend of June 16-June 18th, the MAIS program and UW Tacoma hosted the West Coast Liberal Studies Symposium, which featured students and alumni of graduate liberal studies/interdisciplinary programs from noted universities along the west coast, including Stanford University, Reed College, Dominican University of California, Simon Fraser University, Mount St. Mary’s University, St. John’s College Santa Fe, and the University of Washington Tacoma. Over the course of the weekend nearly forty people presented their research, which ranged in a diversity of topics from environmental policy and politics in relation to the Dakota Pipeline, averting prison recidivism through education, the gentrification of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gendered citizenship and abolitionism, and art, women and feminism from the 1960s, to name a few. UW Tacoma was well represented with six current and former MAIS students showcasing their research. These included current student Katie Jennison and MAIS alumni Jessica Warner, Omari Amili, Ben Warner, Star Murray and Karin Dalesky. Thanks to all of the universities, colleges and presenters who participated in this event, to SIAS faculty Riki Thompson, Emily Ignacio, Michael Berry, Cynthia Howson, and LeAnne Laux-Bechand along with MAIS student Courtney Choi for assisting with the welcoming attendees and moderating sessions.
Clockwise, from left to right: Jessica Warner, University of Washington Tacoma; Omari Amili, University of Washington Tacoma; Elzabeth O’Neil, Reed College (photos courtesy of Karin Dalesky); Taina Brown, Mount St. Mary’s University (photo courtesy of Riki Thompson).
Faculty Spotlight – Dr. Sam Parker
Dr. Sam Parker was on of nine original faculty that began here at UW Tacoma in 1990. He was also the Graduate Faculty Coordinator for the MAIS program from its inception in 2000 until 2013, and has interacted with many students over the years. Sam has been an invaluable presence here on our campus, and he shares some of his more recent research with us below:
Sam is a cultural anthropologist who started out doing graduate work in the art history of India before shifting over to studying the same material through the methods of anthropology. He has done extensive fieldwork on Hindu temple construction and image making in India and Bali.
Part of his participant observation methodology entails annual visits to an ashram in North India where he has been working on refining a mentally challenging daily yoga practice for several decades. This practice has profoundly transformed his entire understanding of what the visual culture of ancient India was all about. And it has made him deeply skeptical of modern practices of documenting, cataloging, collecting and exhibiting it under the auspices of a tacitly economic art system, through which the significance of ancient objects is projected into the past, as if they are static tokens of a falsely universalized, private intellectual property system, which Sam summarizes as an author/authority/authenticity model of creativity and meaning. With this unintended slight of hand, a misleading commercial conception of fixed, essential “meanings”—abstracted from living traditions of actual practice—is made to seem normal.
By contrast, ancient Indian conceptions of creativity and meaning presume the reality of brahman, from the Sanskrit root brih, meaning ‘to evolve,’ or ‘to grow.’ In this worldview creativity is a phenomenon that grows out of a complex relational system, which, in turn, arises out of an underlying cosmogonic unity. The author/authenticity/authority model and brahman are both creation myths (the map is never the territory), but it is misleading to assume that ours is simply realistic and that of the ‘other’ is necessarily fictional. Rather they articulate two very different ‘realistic’ contexts of value and correlated practices.
The institutionalization of economic norms in the modern art world has consequently resulted in the radical re-classifying and re-framing of ancient Indian material culture. Ancient objects are now misleadingly deployed as high-end commodities, collected, studied, documented and exhibited as a universalized category of aesthetic fetishes in the modern art market. The holistic reality represented by the natural forces of growth and evolution (brahman) in ancient Indian art is thereby displaced–represented as mythical fiction—meanwhile the narrow presuppositions of modern economic realism and possessive individualism are elevated to the status of universal reality. This happens not only in the pragmatic contexts of private collecting and museum collecting, but also increasingly at museumized archaeological sites in India where a similar kind of commercial collecting is promoted at the level of a middle-class price-range, in which we’re being urged to seek fulfillment through the accumulation of fetishized touristic experiences sold by an ever-ravenous tourism industry. A clear example of this is the popularity of filling up a ‘bucket list’ of destinations, which cynically turns life experiences into a kind of closet, garage, or storage locker to be jam-packed with a class of commodities that don’t take up physical space–something that lots of middle class people don’t have much of anymore. By feeding ancient Indian monuments and art objects into this kind of system we may be able to look at them, but we may not really be seeing them.
This line of research developed out of Sam’s work on the rituals of Hindu temple construction and renovation in Bali in 1999-2000 where the monetizing practices and values of international cultural tourism reign supreme. Because it was impractical to do this fieldwork in an uninterrupted span of time, he completed this work in India during two sabbaticals in 2007-8 and 2015-16 combined with annual visits to India during the winter breaks. He is presently writing up the results of this research in a book titled Dharmavision: Reading Reality through the Art of Ancient India, in a Delusional Age of Cultural Tourism.
Current Student News
MAIS Students Abroad
University of Oxford, photos courtesy of Rachael Williamson.
In the February edition of Masterly Musings we were thrilled to announce that three of our MAIS students, Katie Jennison, Erica Tucker and Rachael Williamson had been accepted to present their research papers at the 2017 Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE) in Leicester, England. All were students enrolled in Professor Ellen Moore’s TIAS 502 Culture and Public Problems class in Autumn Quarter 2016, in which the topic for the class was environmental issues in relation to the Dakota Access Pipeline. They are currently in England preparing for the conference which occurs this weekend, and we’ll provide more details of their trip in our next issue. For now, we thought readers might enjoy seeing some of the grandeur they are encountering as they make their way to Leicester. Congratulations to Katie, Erica and Rachael, we couldn’t be more proud of you!
New MAIS Students
In May, the MAIS Admissions Committee met to review our potential news students for the Autumn Quarter incoming class. We’re extremely pleased to announce that we’ve admitted 11 new students for next year! These incoming students’ interests span a wide range, including public policy, literature, Native-American history, administrative law as it relates to transgender issues and people, nonprofit studies, the politics of U.S. immigration policy, Middle Eastern politics, and more. More information about them, including detailed student biographies, will appear in our next issue. Congratulations to our new incoming students! For anyone interested in exploring options for admission to the MAIS program, please contact Karin Dalesky, MAIS Program Administrator and Advisor, at email@example.com.
For the past three years it has been my privilege to lead the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies as Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC). During this time the program has matured in a number of ways, including:
- Formally launching the Community & Social Change and Nonprofit Studies options.
- Revamping the program’s administrative infrastructure and processes to be consistent with the
School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences’ Divisional structure and to include regular student
- Developing a long-needed online application and admission process.
- Updating curriculum, including broadening the range of courses available to fulfill elective
- Securing a stable budget for the program and expanding the pool of small one-time funding
resources for students.
- Sending students to local, regional, national, and international conferences, some of whom have won awards or had their work published in conference proceedings as a result.
- Graduated over two dozen students, all of whom have been successful in their post-MAIS lives,
including becoming authors, activists, filmmakers, educators, doctoral students, and more.
- Raising the program’s profile regionally and nationally through faculty and student participation in the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs’ annual conferences, my own participation in that organization’s Board of Directors for a year, and the MAIS’s hosting of the 2017 West Coast Liberal Studies Symposium.
- Launching the MAIS online newsletter Masterly Musings.
- Revamping and relaunching the MAIS Facebook page.
- Hiring a new, highly experienced permanent Administrator/Advisor, Karin Dalesky, to replace the previous Administrator/Advisor, who retired after over a decade in 2014.
These are just some of the more “sexy” things the program has accomplished in recent years! I fully anticipate that this success will continue as the program moves forward. However my personal leadership of the program will end on June 30, 2017. It is time now for a new leader and I am happy to announce that Associate Professor of Writing Studies (and current Associate Dean for Curriculum and Academic Initiatives of the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences) Dr. Riki Thompson will assume the GPC role effective July 1. Dr. Thompson knows the program well, having taught the Graduate Research and Writing course (TIAS 513) multiple times and having served as the MAIS’s Interim GPC during the 2013-2014 academic year. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Thompson and wishing her and the program continued success over the coming years!
For my part, while I am leaving the GPC role I will continue to serve the program as a faculty member and mentor to students. I want to thank Karin Dalesky (without whom the program would come to a crashing halt!), the many faculty colleagues who have served the program over the years (including serving as advisors, chairs, and readers for students, members of the Steering and Admissions Committees, and of course my predecessors in the GPC role – most notably Dr. Sam Parker, profiled above), and most of all the many wonderful students I have had the privilege to serve. Your passion, dedication, and hard work have made this job a joy! THANK YOU!!