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Visiting Faculty: Humboldt's Kristina Graaff examines relationships between spatial phenomena and society

Jun 9, 2015
Kristina Graaff, Humboldt University

As part of Honors' ongoing commitment to global engagement, we welcomed visiting scholar Kristina Graaff from the American Studies Department at Humboldt University in Berlin to teach with us this spring. Graaff's visit is part of a small faculty exchange program supported by a Provost grant from UW’s Global Affairs which allows scholars from UW and Humboldt University the opportunity to teach at the other institution for a term, and to participate in collaborative research with undergraduates from both universities. Our first exchange in 2012 brought Martin Klepper, Chair of American Studies at Humboldt, to Seattle to teach both Honors and English students in a seminar about narrative.

During her quarter-long stay at the UW, Graaff is completing several manuscripts for publication, as well as teaching an Honors course entitled "Space is not a flat surface across which we walk: American Studies & the Politics of Space." As Graaff explains, this course examines "space as a socially reproduced political entity that is inextricably related to the intersections of class, race, gender identity, national origin, age, and disability." Graaff's own love of Seattle and the Northwest also informs the class, which encourages students to explore the spatial stories in various neighborhoods of their city and share their findings and experiences with each other.

Graaff told us that she will miss Seattle and said this about working with Honors students: "One thing I thought was interesting was that the longer class times (Humbolt seminars run 90 minutes and these classes were two hours) allowed me to test new teaching methodologies. I could also consider how best to reach someone from mathematics, neurobiology, engineering, economics...each brings something different to the table and that interdisciplinarity was exciting. The students were really smart and active, so good at public speaking and co-facilitation. The critical mindset was already there so you could start from a critical understanding of race, age, gender, etc. All the basics were there."

As part of the exchange program, UW English professor Gillian Harkins is currently teaching at Humboldt. Both Graaff and Harkins will collaborate with Honors students studying abroad in Berlin this summer. UW Honors also offers a direct exchange for a semester or year-long study at Humboldt for students wishing for a deeper, more sustained engagement abroad.