Cultural Studies PhD Sarah McCullough Joins UCSD Humanities Center

Upon receiving her PhD in cultural studies from the University of California, Davis, Sarah McCullough was thinking a lot about “how to incorporate the humanities into everyday life.” Before graduate school, McCullough worked as an academic counselor and also served as graduate student researcher at the Davis Humanities Institute while completing her degree.

“I think you need to really consider what drives your passion,” McCullough said, “and to think creatively about how best to apply that passion.”  This is the perspective she brings to her new position as associate director of the University of California, San Diego Center for the Humanities.

Established in 1996, the Center for the Humanities promotes research and other activities in humanistic lines of inquiry at UCSD. Its current goal is to promote interdisciplinary research on issues surrounding human experience and knowledge and to facilitate collaborations around issues that have, continue to, and now confront our diverse societies. The center’s activities range from collaborative research groups to public events.

The center also offers tools and assistance to faculty and graduate students to advance their research goals. “We are pushing for growth here,” McCullough said. “I want to understand the strengths and passions of graduate students and faculty and to help them grow through collaboration and by connecting to other sites of knowledge production.”

In addition to facilitating the interdisciplinary collaboration of others at UCSD, McCullough continues to pursue her own research goals. “I’m always on campus and in conversation with others in my field. My research actually helps me to do my job better because I understand and can connect with the needs of faculty and graduate students.”

McCullough’s research interests are far-ranging and include material culture studies, transportation studies, anthropology, gender studies, digital humanities, disability studies, fashion theory, and exercise science. Her published articles, “Entangling the Fashion Subject Through the African Diaspora: From Not to(K)not in Fashion Theory” and “Body Like a Rocket: Performing Technologies of Naturalization,” explore the intersections of fashion and culture relative to issues of race and gender.

“Sarah’s interests are all over the map in a really good way,” said Stefan Tanaka, director of the Center for Humanities at UCSD.  “The transdisciplinary nature of her work helps her motivate people across departments to engage in more meaningful conversation.”

Tanaka and McCullough are united in the goal of fostering a more flexible climate of academic work and graduate studies. The Center for Humanities is very young, and has a lot of potential for growth, according to Tanaka.

“Our current projects are working to engage the digital and public humanities through new forms of scholarly communication,” said McCullough. “I see the strength of the humanities in forging new original directions through partnerships in diverse fields and enterprises such as medicine, politics, economics, non-profits, and advocacy among many others.”

Given the current economic climate and the general competitiveness of tenure-track positions, McCullough’s trajectory offers valuable new avenues for academic careers. “You can be an academic without a tenure-track position,” said Tanaka, “It just depends what kind of academic you will be. There are no more ‘non-academic’ jobs.  In fact, many non-professorial jobs are actually more academic.”

Alternatives to traditional tenure-track positions was the focus of the recent Alt-Ac conference at UC Berkeley hosted by THATCamp, a not-for-profit organization standing for The Humanities and Technology Camp and dedicated to fostering dialogue between humanist and technologists.

With these goals in mind the Center for the Humanities along with the Western Humanities Alliance will host a conference titled “New Modes of Scholarly Communication” at UCSD from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1. The conference will explore the impact of digital technologies in academic publishing. Its organizers take for granted the current state of disrepair in the academic publishing system: digital technologies have transformed many aspects of the publishing system, yet many of its structures, practices, and reward systems remain well entrenched.

The goal of this meeting will be to seek ways to balance this disparity and increase the ways that scholars communicate among themselves and with the public, according to Tanaka.  More information regarding this conference can be found at the official UCSD Center for the Humanities website.