Teaching ethnic studies here and in Slovenia

Jed Murr

While he waits for a postponed teaching Fulbright in Slovenia, Dr. Jed Murr is developing a digital history platform as part of a collaboration with scholars, librarians and archivists about Black arts in the Northwest.

Murr was supposed to travel to Slovenia this winter to teach ethnic American culture at the University of Ljubljana in the capital of the central European country.

The associate teaching professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences plans to take the deferred Fulbright next January — “fingers crossed that the world allows that to happen.”

Meanwhile, Murr is working on a project about Black artists closer to home.

American culture abroad

Murr, who has been at the University of Washington Bothell since 2014, researches and teaches courses on social, cultural and artistic movements. He is looking forward to teaching ethnic American literature in the University of Ljubljana’s Department of English and leading a seminar on U.S. Black aesthetic movements at the city’s Center for Contemporary Arts.

“I’m interested in what it means to teach the politics of race, ethnic studies and American studies from my U.S. vantage point in a central and eastern European setting,” Murr said.

He believes there is a general interest in American popular culture — music and film — in Slovenia, but there is a different way of approaching race and ethnicity.

“Our language of race doesn’t resonate with them in the same way. They don’t necessarily see themselves caught up in the same world of race that we’re in, even though, of course, they are in so many different ways,” Murr said.

Black Arts Northwest

During a sabbatical originally planned for his Fulbright, Murr is working on a project funded with a UW Bothell Scholarship, Research and Creative Practice Seed Grant. As part of a larger Black Arts Northwest collaboration with scholars, librarians and archivists, Murr is creating a digital history platform.

Part of the platform will be a website about a Black Power mural in Seattle that was created in the early 1970s and destroyed in the 1990s. Another project would digitize Black periodicals published in Seattle and make them publicly accessible. The work will create opportunities for UW Bothell students to produce course-related research about their communities and to reflect on their own life and experiences, Murr said.

“They’ll take knowledge about the way racism has worked as a system and apply it to local history,” he said. “So, they might research redlining in Seattle or histories of racial covenants and then visualize that in digital projects to help educate fellow students, to speak to other audiences outside the University, to share knowledge in ways that typical academic writing does not.”

Already, Murr has been working with two alumni, Jasmyne Bryant (Society, Ethics & Human Behavior ’17) and Marcus Johnson (Master of Arts in Cultural Studies ’16, Global Studies ’13), a Ph.D. candidate at the UW Department of Communication.

Feeling relevant

The scholarship is in the tradition of historian Carter G. Woodson, whose work a century ago led to the observance of African American History Month. The nation had gone through the 1918 influenza pandemic, the 1919 Red Summer of anti-Black mob violence and President Woodrow Wilson showing the film “Birth of a Nation” that glorified the KKK in the White House.

As it feels relevant, the question Murr poses for this February’s Black History Month is, “What are white people going to do to undo these systems and policies and practices?”

We should study the Black radical tradition in order to create better ways of being in the world, Murr said — “more democratic, more just, more peaceful ways of being in the world.”

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