2015 Sawyer Seminar

By Elizabeth Brown, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
October 14, 2014

For the first time ever, UCR was invited to submit a grant proposal to join the prestigious Sawyer Seminar. The recently hired Science Fiction professors Nalo Hopkinson, Sheryl Vint, and Rob Latham composed an “Alternative Futurisms” proposal that seeks to expand the Indigenous, Asian-American, Latino, and Afro futurism dialogues currently in the Science Fiction community.

This seminar will commence in the 2015-16 school year, and will consist of three graduate seminars, one each quarter, taught by Hopkinson, Vint, and Latham, respectively. The Sawyer Seminar promotes cutting edge projects that expand existing fields, and through the graduate seminars the professors hope to teach tools and explore technologies to think about how different cultures use Science Fiction for critical questions about the future. They are seeking to “encompass all arts, not just print literature,” according to Rob Latham, and will be working closely with three post-doctoral fellows to help plan and execute their goals. This seminar will also work closely with UCR’s Eaton collection, the “world’s premier archive of Science Fiction materials,” Latham states, and will utilize the “synergy of special collections and the Science Fiction group” to bring about the deepest possible exploration of their topics. Vint feels that the Eaton collection will provide a “sustained and in depth” study opportunity, and that after the program ends, as professors, they will be able to apply what they have learned to all future classes, spreading the benefits to all CHASS students.

Vint notes that this is an “excellent opportunity for post-doctoral students in the area looking for work,” and expresses gratitude towards Dean Cullenberg for his Science Fiction hiring initiative. His actions are already reaping rewards for CHASS and the UCR community at large. This program will fund two PhD students for a full year, and provide funds to each professor to accomplish their goals. The progression of the course topics will start with “Why Sci-Fi” fall quarter, “Whose Future” winter quarter, and end with “Alternative Futurisms” spring quarter. Vint sees this as an opportunity for “creative practitioners” to generate new discourses for “a dialogue that mixes all ethnicities at their sites of engagement,” rather than studying each in an isolated fashion.

Central questions in Science Fiction are focusing on major topics represented in all humanities, such as future, sustainability, and post humanism. Through the Sawyer Seminar, the Science Fiction PhD will be able to explore and expand upon these topics via the lens of “Alternative Futurisms.”

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