Intersections of arts and technology in social inquiry
Safaa Darwish came to UW Bothell with an Associate in Science and an Associate in Arts from Edmonds Community College, as well as a certificate in Arabic language from Najah National University (West Bank, Palestine). Safaa decided to major in Mathematical Thinking & Visualization (MTV) because she wanted to explore social issues and science at the same time. Explaining her choice, she says, “I could keep up to date with developments in technology and math. At the same time I’m not limiting myself to technical fields.”
Safaa brought two fundamental questions to her work in MTV. Both embed technical and professional education within the interdisciplinary liberal arts. “How can I use my technological background to translate and promote human rights? How can I bring about change through data and technology –specifically through translations of data and visualizations?” She found ways to answer these questions in MTV. In many ways, she exemplifies the type of student MTV was designed to serve.
As an interdisciplinary major, MTV draws simultaneously on mathematics, statistics, and visual studies to develop ways of discovering, analyzing, and representing data. The major allows students to link the discipline of mathematical thinking – the ability to recognize mathematical forms in relation to real-world phenomena – with practices of data and information visualization – the ability to communicate and think about data in visualized form across contexts.
Focusing on contemporary social issues, Safaa has made meaning via data collection, interpretation, and representation in a variety of IAS research projects. These include using historical, archival, and current research to create GIS (geographic information system) visualizations for the Washington Prison History Project; digitizing archives on the history of Black Seattle for the People’s Geography of Seattle project; and analyzing the implications of U.S. foreign policy for the incarceration of Palestinian youth, the focus of her inquiry for the DC Human Rights Seminar.
Safaa in Washington D.C. during the D.C. Seminar trip
Safaa’s interests in visualization extend beyond the technological to embrace the artistic. This year Safaa organized the first Middle East and North Africa Literature (MENAL) Festival at UW Bothell. The festival brought to UW Bothell women artists with connections to the Middle East and North Africa, creating space for engaging perspectives not often heard in mainstream Western culture.
Menal means ‘achievement’ in Arabic. The event featured mother-daughter team Feryal Abbasi Ghanaim and Wafa Ghaniam of Tatreez & Tea. In their artistry, they carry forward centuries-old, intergenerational traditions of Palestinian story-telling and resistance, conveyed in graphic design through embroidery. Feryal’s contributions to Palestinian heritage arts in the diaspora have been recognized with awards from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“I think it’s really important to be able to understand where the intersections of liberal arts and technology come in. For example, how can we use technology, data visualization, or statistics in promoting artist-activists,” says Safaa, “Going back to my research on foreign policy and incarceration, how can we use technology to promote voices that are not normally heard in these international discussions?”
Safaa’s projects respond to these questions, relying on her understanding of technology, art, and data analysis to uncover and bridge gaps of social understanding. As she puts it, “If our discussions are actually data driven, then they’re technology driven – even in the liberal arts. Knowing how to use that is really important.”
Safaa graduates this quarter. She is currently exploring job and internship opportunities, and plans to go to law school. “I like the structure of law. And I like sifting through data. I want to apply both of these to optimize policy outcomes.”