Northwestern University awards research grants to NU-Q faculty

August 16, 2021
Northwestern University has awarded Northwestern Qatar faculty grants to research the history of race through animation, create a virtual reality experience of how humans survived pandemics throughout history, and explore what social and cultural barriers impede students in Qatar from creative writing.
Northwestern’s Provost Grants for Research in Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts are competitive grants that are designed to support scholarly and creative work across a variety of disciplines.
Inspired by the global protests denouncing police brutality and discrimination against the Black community, Marcela Pizarro will use her grant to highlight the work of intellectuals who have contributed to the anti-racist struggle both in the U.S. and beyond.
Pizarro explained that the research project – Race Historicized: Epistemologies of Color – "reflects a spirit of epistemological decentering: if more than 90 percent of enslaved Africans were transported to South America and the Caribbean, and India, then discussions on race should reflect the thought produced in and on those continents.”
“It's both in terms of content and execution,” she continued, “that this project seeks to honor the call for authentic inclusion (beyond problematic notions of 'diversity') because this is a project that will be written, directed, animated, and voiced by journalists, writers, activists, and students from backgrounds that cross continents, race, gender, and class.”
Building on his portfolio of immersive digital learning projects that focus on world history, Spencer Striker will design and develop a playable prototype of an original virtual reality program that educates students on how the world responded to pandemics throughout history.
Striker’s project – Surviving Pandemics in History – a Virtual Reality Experience – will bring to life five historical pandemic settings: the Plague of Athens in 430 BCE, the Bubonic Plague of 14th-century Europe, Smallpox in 16th-century South America, Cholera in the mid-19th century in London, and the Spanish Flu in Chicago in 1918.
“Through VR technology and narrative design, we will transport students through space and time – for example to mid-14th-century European villages stricken with the Black Death or mid-16th century Peruvian villages devastated by smallpox – and use data overlay and interactive learning tools to explore and understand how diseases spread,” Striker said.
Professor and novelist Sam Meekings’s project – Barriers to Beginning: Local, Cultural, and Colonial Impediments to Creative Writing in Qatar – will attempt to identify what social and cultural barriers affect how student writers in Qatar approach creative writing, their thought process, and the influence of virtual writing communities on their work. “Understanding these barriers,” he said, “are essential to foster greater inclusivity and a diversity of approaches to writing.”
“This research topic was inspired by the current work being done within the field of Creative Writing to decolonize writing craft and ideas, and to re-evaluate assumptions about how we write and what good writing looks like,” said Meekings. “I think it's important to apply this work to local contexts.”