2020-21 Annual Report

Just, ethical, sustainable worlds start with the humanities.


As the new director of the Institute for Humanities Research, I was supposed to arrive at Arizona State University in August 2020, but I could not make it until March 2021. My late arrival was of course due to COVID-19 and the delays it created in visa issuing as well as several cancellations of flights from Australia to the U.S. 

During this delay, however, I was in weekly contact with the team at the institute, and I was impressed by the success of the online programming they had put in place. ...

Read the letter from Nicole Anderson

Grants and awards

Grants and awards at the institute imagine and create better futures by funding humanities-based projects and publications. 


dollars in grants and awards was distributed in 2020-21


projects received funding in 2020-21


of seed grant projects funded in 2020-21 were interdisciplinary


of seed grant projects funded in 2020-21 supported marginalized communities


The Fellows program provides funding for faculty to commit to a year of intensive, collaborative research.

What does it mean to be human and humane in an age that undermines our humanity? “Recovering the Human(e) in an Age of Dehumanization” was the 2020-21 theme for the institute’s fellowship program.  

Dave Fossum, assistant professor, School of Music, Dance and Theatre

Project: Making Copyright Global: Musical Creativity and Intellectual Property in Turkey

Linh D. Vu, assistant professor, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies (SHPRS)

Project: Disembodiment of Sovereignty: Human Remains, Modern China and the World

James E. Wermers, clinical assistant professor, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

Project: Teaching Shakespeare: White Supremacy and Dehumanization in U.S. American Education

Is Shakespeare an 'engine of inequity'?

In May 2017, James Wermers was leading a presentation on microaggressions and structural racism in a room of over a hundred people. 

He began the discussion with a brief exercise:

First, he asked the group to identify plays by Shakespeare, to which they responded enthusiastically, naming 26 different works.

Then, he asked a second question: Can you name works by Indigenous authors, female authors or authors of color?

Suddenly, the initial excitement shifted to uncomfortable silence. After a few hesitant responses, the question was called out: 

“Are you calling us racist?”

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Seed grants

The institute’s seed grant program empowers the ASU community to imagine, innovate and create humanities research that addresses significant social challenges in the past, present and future. 

Spring 2020 seed grant recipients

A Highway in the Desert: Christians in the Valley of the Sun

Jason Bruner, associate professor, SHPRS.

The Amazonian Social Relation to Nature: A Digital Variable Pathway Resource

Janis Nuckolls, professor, Brigham Young University; Tod D. Swanson, associate professor, SHPRS.

Constructing the Maghrib: Contested Landscapes

Chouki El Hamel, professor, SHPRS, director, Center for Maghrib Studies; Said Ennahid, associate professor, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane; Edward Oetting, librarian, ASU Libraries; Matthew Toro, director of maps, imagery and geospatial services, ASU Library Map and Geospatial Hub.

Immigrant Artists, Alternative Modernisms and Collecting as a Public Good in the US, 1910-40

Julie Codell, professor, School of Art.

Rebirth and Resurgence in Southern Arizona: A Political History of Hia Ced O’odham Sovereignty Since 1850

David Martínez, associate professor, American Indian Studies.

Reframing Theories of Evil: Interventions in Philosophy

Imge Oranli, assistant professor, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

The Sound of Social Change: A History of Women’s Music

Julia Himberg, associate professor and director of film and media studies, Department of English.

Fall 2020 seed grant recipients

'What Happened Here is Not Right': A Critical Oral History of Post-9/11 Detention and Surveillance

Anand Gopal, assistant research professor, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and Center on the Future of War; Daniel Rothenberg, center co-director and professor of practice, School of Politics and Global Studies.

Conspiracy Pedagogies: QAnon, Social Media and the Teaching of Far-Right Extremism

Jennifer Sandlin, professor, School of Social Transformation.

Mapping Black Ecologies

J.T. Roane, assistant professor, School of Social Transformation, program lead, Black Ecologies Initiative; Huewayne Watson, instructor, School of Social Transformation.

Book Award

The institute’s Book Award celebrates outstanding writers whose contributions to the humanities change the conversation by fostering new directions for their discipline. The 2021 award was open exclusively to publications by ASU faculty.

Cover of "That Most Precious Merchandise," by Hannah Barker.

That Most Precious Merchandise:
The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500

Author: Hannah Barker, assistant professor, SHPRS

Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press

The history of the Black Sea as a source of Mediterranean slaves stretches from ancient Greek colonies to human trafficking networks in the present day. 

At its height during the 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sea slave trade was not the sole source of Mediterranean slaves; Genoese, Venetian and Egyptian merchants bought captives taken in conflicts throughout the region, from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans and the Aegean Sea. 

Yet the trade in Black Sea slaves provided merchants with profit and prestige; states with military recruits, tax revenue and diplomatic influence; and households with the service of women, men and children.

Reading notarial registers, tax records, law, merchants’ accounts, travelers’ tales and letters, sermons, slave-buying manuals, literary works and treaties, Barker gives a rich picture of the context in which merchants traded and enslaved people met their fate.

Short-listed works

Beyond Hashtags: Racial Politics and Black Digital Networks

Author: Sarah Florini, associate professor, Department of English
Publisher: NYU Press

Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture: Looking Through the Kaleidoscope

Author: Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion, College of Integrated Sciences and Arts
Publisher: University of Arizona Press

Psychomotor Aesthetics: Movement and Affect in Modern Literature and Film

Author: Ana Hedberg Olenina, assistant professor, School of International Letters and Cultures
Publisher: Oxford University Press

Women, Sex, and Madness: Notes from the Edge

Author: Breanne Fahs, professor, School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies
Publisher: Routledge

Research advancement

The institute offers support to The College’s Division of Humanities at ASU as well as internal funding recipients in developing and crafting humanities-based projects for external funding applications.

Support includes identifying funding sources as well as providing assistance with all aspects of an external application, with no regard to the size, scope, funding level or experience of the researcher(s).*

*Research advancement data are measured over an 18-month project period (Jan. 1, 2020-June 30, 2021).


dollars in external funding was awarded


collaborative proposals were submitted


proposals included direct engagement with local communities


ASU faculty participated in sponsored projects in collaboration with the Division of Humanities


project proposals were submitted


proposals were awarded funding (with 12 still pending at the time of reporting)

Events and workshops

Institute events centralize the humanities in building just, ethical and sustainable worlds. Additionally, professional development workshops help faculty and students thrive as scholars in the humanities. 


virtual events and workshops were offered to the community


events employed humanities methodologies to advocate for more just futures for marginalized communities


events addressed challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of the humanities in overcoming those challenges

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Adaptation, Resiliency and Care series

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Scholarly Series on Hope and Empowerment

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Identity, community and belonging with adrienne maree brown

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Designing for Care and Embracing Ungrading with Jesse Stommel

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Medicalizing Blackness with Rana Hogarth

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Examining TikTok with T.X. Watson

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These dynamic programs are designed to make an impact in critical areas of contemporary life through interdisciplinary humanities research.

They are windows into imagining and building better futures for us all. 


interdisciplinary initiatives were supported in 2020-21


dollars in funding was provided to institute initiatives


events were hosted by institute initiatives

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‘Extraction, Disposability and Resistance’

The “Extraction, Disposability and Resistance” series hosted by the Black Ecologies Initiative brought together environmental justice organizers, farmers, performance and visual artists and intellectuals.

Together, participants discussed overcoming extraction and disaster, confronting ecological crises and connecting Black communities across time and place.

Watch the series

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Bias, racism and colonialism in the history of epidemics

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first or the only disease outbreak that has threatened human health and disproportionately affected those already disadvantaged by established institutions and networks of care.

The Plagues, Epidemics and Culture: Histories of Crisis and Care series hosted by the Health Humanities Initiative explored historical changes in the cultures of care that arose from past epidemics. Speakers addressed how bias, racism and colonialism are intimately bound up in the histories of epidemics and what can be learned from these histories.

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Camp Funston, at Fort Riley, Kansas, during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.)

Watch the series

Thank you

The past year has brought on challenging new circumstances and called attention to existing social injustices. In response to these challenges, the Institute for Humanities Research has funded and organized events, initiatives and projects that seek to build better futures through humanities methodologies.

Thank you to our friends, colleagues and stakeholders who have supported these efforts. Together, we can create just, ethical and sustainable worlds.

How can the humanities change the world?

Just, ethical, sustainable worlds start with the humanities

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