What makes the University of Washington unique in this state? What gives it its particular value? Those are questions we might answer in varying ways, questions on which different individuals will have quite varying perspectives. But one crucial thing setting this university apart is what is termed in the academic world its status as a “Research 1” institution. That means, for instance, that many departments on campus have large graduate programs—in the case of English, multiple such programs in literature/culture, language, and creative writing, all of them together enrolling some 200 masters and doctoral students each year. We teach and train people who go off to teach at other universities across the country and around the world, graduating dozens of such individuals each year. While at UW, those graduate students teach dozens of classes and thousands of undergraduate students each year, typically doing so with brilliance and dedication, while earning what one could at best call apprentice salaries.
But the core claim—indeed, the obligation—of a research university is that its faculty and graduate students do in an ongoing way the kinds of research that produce new knowledge, maintain historical and cultural memory, and enhance in demonstrable ways the kinds of educational experiences that it offers. Research and teaching are meant to be of a single piece at UW, both connected as well to the service and community engagement projects in which many of us engage. And for those of us working in the humanities, these activities are fundamentally dependent upon private support. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and other funding in the humanities is dwarfed by the National Instititutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other government and private funding for research in the natural and social sciences—fair enough, since we rarely need expensive lab equipment and technology or an army of lab assistants to do our research. But we do need time, time to read widely, to study texts, to visit archives, to undertake surveys and, most crucially, time to write up the results of our research and then to share that research with others in our fields as a way of critiquing and extending our conclusions.
This issue of English Matters focuses upon some sample instances of humanities research in our department and upon the ways in which that research derives directly from donor support. As you will see, the examples we selected are mostly instances of faculty-student collaborations, cases where the rigor and creativity of the research has visibly been fostered by its cooperative dynamics. But we could have focused just as easily upon faculty and student publications; not a single one of the new faculty books mentioned in our Faculty Notes section would have come into being without a mix of university and private support for their research, and those publications, too, reveal behind them the intrinsically collaborative spirit of humanities research, our dependence, ultimately, upon one another. It is in the end you who matter—our alumni, our donors, our friends, our audience—and to you that we dedicate the products of our research.