Hidden Figures: How Digital Humanities Helped Students Rediscover Ancient Women Philosophers

In the realm of Ancient Philosophy, many people immediately think of philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. However, ancient women philosophers such as Hypatia and Diotima rarely come to mind. Not only is information about ancient women philosophers quite scarce, but many sources even have contradicting or unreliable information.

Students in Professor Sara Protasi’s Ancient Greek Philosophy class were challenged to research ancient women philosophers and create digital archives of their research. The goal of this project was to develop skills in library and database research using ancient women philosophers as a topic. This project was meant to be challenging for students due to a variety of methodological issues. The first main problem is the paucity of primary sources and the scholarly debate over the authenticity of those few remaining texts. The second main issue is the validity and veracity of second-hand commentaries, all of which were authored by men, who were prone to the sexist biases characteristic of their times.

The contributions of educational technologist Kaity Peake and Humanities librarian Katy Curtis were crucial to the good outcome of the project. Katy Curtis remarked that the topic of ancient women philosophers is “very effective for fostering an exploration of the library resources and … the students were invested in learning more about the topic and grappling with the particular challenges of doing this type of research.”

One student, Holden Chen, reflected on his experience with the project thus:

“In creating our digital archive entry, it felt satisfying to apply the knowledge I have gained from this course and others in a collaborative way, in turn creating an informative entry that other people can access and share.

Pursuing this project in a collaborative way channeled meaningful conversations about the texts we were researching and in that process we were philosophizing in a way that encouraged the study of women. Overall, I think this project and similar ones reflect what a liberal arts education is really about.”

The digital archives created by the students of Phil 210 can be found here: http://edblogs.pugetsound.edu/fa17-phil210a/

Philosophy of Film Takes Shape Through Creative Projects

In Fall 2017, Professor Sara Protasi taught the course Philosophy of Film and Performing Arts. Throughout the course, students philosophically approached questions such as: What is film? What are the differences and similarities between film and other arts such as theatre, dance, and music? What explains the emotional involvement audiences have with the characters on screen?

At the end of the term, students were asked to engage in a creative project of their choosing. The goal of the project was to allow students to research and engage with a topic discussed in class but express their findings in a creative way. Some students collaborated on short films, some did a series of drawings, and others wrote a series of film reviews.

A group of students collaborated on a series of drawings offering different perspectives of identification in realist horror films. The drawings focused on The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Psycho (1960). Each student chose to focus on one type of character in the films: Kayley Clothier focused on identification with the serial killer, Kabir Cooppan-Boyd focused on identification with the protagonist, Marq Schuling focused on identification with the victim, Alexa Sperry with supporting characters, and Michelle Bank with female characters.

Another significant aspect of the group’s drawings is that they all contain some sort of moving part. For Sperry, the moving parts suggest that the movie scene is evolving. In her drawing of supporting characters in Psycho (1960), Sperry depicted the swamp where Norman Bates dumped both Marion Crane and the detective.

This piece further supports Knight’s argument for a “global structure” in the fact that at the beginning of the film, the audience thinks that Marion is going to be a main character, and while she is in the sense that the film revolves around trying to find her, she dies too early to really establish a connection with her. The detective who is murdered is held to the same importance as Marion…and he is merely a supporting character. Their deaths are just pawns in the story of Norman Bates who is the murderer.


In his drawing, Schuling focused on one particular scene in The Silence of the Lambs where Catherine is being held in a well by serial killer Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb. He describes how identification is used in this scene: 

Identification is key in this scene for the building fear to be effective in inciting emotion – the audience is made to put themselves in Catherine’s shoes, and as Deborah Knight suggests, “mentally simulate” the state of mind of the victim. It is more than just sympathy, for we fear for Catherine in the same way she fears for herself, we fear with her.

In this piece, the paper gradually unfolds to expand the depth of the well Catherine is in. Schuling used moving parts in his work to symbolize film; films are a series of moving pictures, so by taking a static drawing and adding a moving part to it, he attempted to represent the nature of film. Schuling describes his drawing by saying:

I chose to depict this desperation through identification and mental simulation by painting Catherine in the well. I chose to color her in black and white, using somber watercolors to represent helplessness. The deepness of the well unfolds above her as she realizes the reality of not being able to escape, and the folds are tied with the rope she uses to attract Precious to the well, the rope that ultimately is her lifeline.




Another group (Duncan Long, August Malueg, Keegan Kyle, Claire Harbutt, and Colleen Hanson) collaborated on a short film called Wrong Fiction Writer. This short film addressed the class topics of authorship, genre, and identification. The film is about an author who sells his dramatic screenplay to a production company and becomes enraged when it is turned into a comedy production. Collaborator Colleen Hanson describes the film more in depth:

The main class topic that our film Wrong Fiction Writer addressed was that of authorship. In La Politique des Auteurs, Truffaut puts a heavy emphasis on directors as authors of film. Our film does not address authorship in terms of the director, but rather it emphasizes the role of the author of the screenplay. In our film, the author is a bit bashful delivering his screenplay to the executive, but upon discovering that his work has been turned into a comedy, he confidently takes ownership of the screenplay. He asserts himself to the actor who plays Jim Poz – not the director or the executive (like most would be inclined to do). This confrontation suggests an objection to Sarris, who proposes an evaluative approach to authorship. The evaluative approach asks, “who is responsible for a film’s goodness or badness?” In Wrong Fiction Writer, the author seems to think Jim Poz is responsible for the film’s badness. Other evaluators might have argued that the executive or director was responsible for allowing the genre change.

Liam Grantham wrote a series of film reviews concentrated on auteur theory. Grantham explains the expectations of traditional auteur theory and outlines the goals of his film reviews: 

To use auteur theory we are expected to either simply know aesthetically and narratively what is good and what is bad (which is problematic in a variety of ways) or adhere to the ideas put forth by the film community. The aim of this project was to show that the third premise of Sarris’ auteur theory is not necessary and, in fact, hinders a more interesting conversation. I put together a list of 14 films made by 14 different directors, some of which would easily be called auteurs, while others might not make the cutoff. The goal of this project was to show that the auteur theory is useful and can be applied to a wide range of films and directors.

Grantham’s series of film reviews can be found on this database. 


Alumni Updates: Nicolas Navarro

Among many other skills, philosophy students are taught to think critically, analyze thoroughly, and approach challenges confidently. This kind of education and training prepares philosophy students for any post-graduate career or endeavor. Alumnus Nicolas Navarro ’16, who studied both psychology and philosophy, shares an update of his post-graduate life:

The misty mornings walking to class through the President’s Woods seem a world away as I, Nicolas Navarro, write this update from Huehuetenango, Guatemala as a current Peace Corps Volunteer. In the short two years separating my days in Guatemala and Tacoma, my philosophy on life has changed considerably. I’ve continued my education by working with different non-profits supporting youth development and entrepreneurship, completed coursework for a master’s degree from the University of Miami, and embarked on some of the greatest adventures of my life. I’ll take a note from John Dewey and say, “education was not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

At UM, the Communities and Social Change master’s program included topics on community psychology, youth development, and the management of community organizations. Complementing my studies in Psychology and Philosophy at UPS, I was prepared to think critically and synthesize large amounts of information. Here in Guatemala, I draw from my formal education career and life experiences to support the Peace Corps’ Youth in Development (YID) program.

Encouraging youth leadership, teaching life skills & healthy decisions, and focusing on building local capacity to support youth, the YID program strives to improve the lives of young people around the world. As a program coordinator, I am most passionate about authentically involving young people in both the creation of programs and decision-making processes that impact them. The psychology and philosophy departments at UPS taught me the importance of supporting dialogue between youth on topics of well-being, philosophy, and education; my master’s program taught me the importance of taking action; now I find myself, practicing what I’ve learned.

With plans to further develop the Youth in Development program framework, submit two research articles in community psychology journals for review, and to explore the epistemology of Quality in my next book, life seems to be moving at full speed. Beyond school and work, I’ve found time to ride my motorcycle cross-country from Tacoma to Miami, hitch-hike the west coast’s Highway-1, and I’ve met incredible people all along the way. My philosophy on life is becoming less and less goal oriented, narrowing in on the importance of the process it takes to tell a story. I am grateful for the privilege to be invited to work in such a beautiful country as Guatemala and grateful for all the hands that have helped me get to where I am.

To read more of my thoughts, check out my blog!

Lecture: “Why Study Philosophy Cross-Culturally and Comparatively? An Applied Case from the Chinese Philosophy of Medicine”

The Department of Philosophy is sponsoring a lecture, “Why Study Philosophy Cross-Culturally and Comparatively? An Applied Case from the Chinese Philosophy of Medicine” by Wenqing Zhao, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Whitman College. Here is an overview of the talk:

Abstract: We live in increasingly multicultural and cosmopolitan worlds where different people abide by different normative regimens. Modern people are called upon to comprehend how others understand the content and contours of a good human life. In this talk, I explore a variety of popular reasons to study culturally-situated philosophies. In particular, I give an applied case of conceptualizing health and wellness in light of the Chinese philosophy of medicine. In this Chinese context, health is not understood as a resource for life or objective of living. It is an integrated way of life centered around the concept of nurturing life (yangsheng 养生).  This Chinese perspective, which has endured and continued to inform the everyday life of Chinese people all around the world, raises important questions for its Western counterpart: Is health best understood as a resource for life fulfillment? Is illness the opposite of health? What is the appropriate healthy state that we should desire? In this case, Chinese philosophy enables us to critically reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of conventional thinking about health and wellness in the West.

Date: February 22, 2018
Time: 4:30 pm
Location: Wyatt Hall, Room 109

feb 22 poster

CALL FOR PAPERS: Northwest Student Philosophy Conference (NWSPC)

The students at Western Washington University have announced a call for papers for their Northwest Student Philosophy Conference (NWSPC). Students whose work is accepted to present at a conference can apply for a travel grant from the university. More details about student travel awards are on the university website. Here is information from them about the event:

The Northwest Student Philosophy Conference (NWSPC) is organized by undergraduate students and aims to showcase the philosophical research of undergraduate, graduate, and professional philosophers. This year, our conference takes place on Memorial Day weekend, May 26-27. We are pleased to announce that Georgi Gardiner from the St. John’s College, Oxford University, will be delivering the keynote address. All students – undergraduate, masters, graduate – are invited to submit papers. Entrance is fairly competitive as we have only 6-8 open slots for student presentations, but this should not discourage interested applicants. Papers can be on any philosophical topic, preferably no longer than 6,000 words. Submission deadline is March 31.


  1. Prepare the paper for blind review
  2. Provide an abstract (up to 300 words) between the title and main text of the paper
  3. Send an e-copy as an attachment (either as word doc or pdf) toRyan.Wasserman@wwu.edu
  4. In the email to which the paper is attached, provide relevant contact information: Name / Institution / Email / Phone

For additional information regarding the conference, as well as information on WWU, our philosophy club and our philosophy department, please visit: https://orgsync.com/42976/chapter,http://www.wwu.edu/philosophy/, or email our conference organizer at daviss58@students.wwu.edu.

Applications Due Soon: Summer Programs in Philosophy

Various philosophy departments at universities across the United States are offering immersive summer philosophy programs. Visit their websites below for more information about their programs and how to apply.

Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI)
Application Deadline: January 31, 2018
PIKSI Rock Program Dates:  June 27 – July 6, 2018
PIKSI Boston Program Dates: June 19 – June 26, 2018

The Summer Immersion Program in Philosophy at Brown University (SIPP@Brown)
Application Deadline: March 1, 2018
Program Dates: July 8 – July 21, 2018

Summer Program for Women in Philosophy at UCSD
Application Deadline: March 1, 2018
Program Dates: July 31 – August 8, 2018

Pittsburgh Summer Program 2: 
A Summer Program in Philosophy of Science for Underrepresented Groups
Application Deadline: March 1, 2018
Program Dates: July 16 – July 20, 2018

2018 Colorado Summer Seminar in Philosophy: Paradoxes and Puzzles
Application Deadline: March 1, 2018
Program Dates: June 10 – June 29, 2018

Carnegie Mellon Summer School in Logic and Formal Epistemology
Application Deadline: March 16, 2018
Program Dates: June 11 – June 29, 2018

20th Annual Rutgers Summer Institute for Diversity in Philosophy
Application Deadline: May 4, 2018
Program Dates: July 8 – July 15, 2018

Lecture: “Silence and Salience: The Ethics of Being Judgmental”

The Department of Philosophy is sponsoring a lecture, “Silence and Salience: The Ethics of Being Judgmental” by Neal Tognazzini, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Western Washington University. Here is an overview of the talk:

Abstract: Part of being adult is realizing that just because something is true doesn’t mean you should say it. But here’s a more controversial maxim: just because it’s true doesn’t mean you should think it. This is more controversial because although it’s reasonable to expect someone to have the self-control necessary to refrain from saying every little thing that crosses their mind, it’s unclear whether anyone has control over what crosses their mind in the first place. And yet we do criticize people for being judgmental, and it sure seems that sometimes such a criticism is warranted. In this talk, I plan to explore the way that our involvement in interpersonal relationships ought to structure our thoughts. My thesis will be that to care about someone is to be oriented toward them, or to see them through a particular mental lens, in a way that produces a particular pattern of salience and silence. That is: caring about someone (at least ideally) has the effect of making some features of that person particularly salient, and silencing or screening off other features from one’s consciousness. One is aptly described as judgmental when one’s thoughts do not display this sort of pattern, indicating a failure to fully adopt the orientation that constitutes properly caring about the person.

Date: February 9, 2018
Time: 4 pm
Location: Wyatt Hall, Room 109

Feb 9 poster