Howard speaks about world travels in lecture

Dr. Philip Howard, professor of communications, talks about how his research experiences shaped his journey from graduate school at Northwestern to his faculty position at UW.

After rejecting Haitian pimps' offers of girls in front of his hotel every morning for about a week, Phil Howard was sent a male prostitute.

At the Department of Communication’s second Inaugural Lectures series, Howard shared a series of experiences that shaped his path from being a graduate student at Northwestern University to obtaining a faculty position at the UW. Among others, he shared a story of a time he set off to research which areas of Haiti faced issues of peasants living without land rights due to the manipulation of the local elite.

“That journey through Haiti involved seeing some of the most beautiful, ancient defenses ever built,” he said. “But, my heart sank … you could [also] smell and hear and see and touch human hurt.”

As part of the research, which was sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency, Howard had to devise some potential ways that the Canadian agency could improve the quality of life in Haiti. Howard said he brainstormed some ideas that could potentially improve the quality of life but was discouraged knowing that it would have a minimal impact on the depth of the issues at hand.

“Even though I did my best to write a 30-page report, I learned that, sometimes, your research changes nothing,” Howard said.

David Domke, chair of the Department of Communication, expressed his respect for Howard and his work.

“Phil is an intellectual visionary,” Domke said. “At the [UW], its common for faculty and staff to be attentive enough to have an idea of what’s going on around the curb. Phil, he not only sees around the curb but around the curb of the earth, quite literally.”

From Chiapas, Mexico, to study the uprising of the Zapatistas, to Budapest following the tracks of a missing high-school boy, Howard’s research has taken him across the world. He said through all of the “dark times” and “strange times,” he was often left discouraged by the people who impeded his ability to conduct research.

“But it’s important to know — people may hate your ideas, but you’ll still be taken interesting places,” he said. “Life is data.”

Howard said that he hopes some of his lessons will be useful to members of the audience, regardless of their current place in the professional pipeline.

Michael Yaqub, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication, said he has been attending the Inaugural lectures for exactly that reason.

“They talk about what they do in their research but blend in a personal story to talk about what led them to make certain decisions in their research,” Yaqub said. “It’s interesting to hear how others approached the field and how they found their path.”

The third lecture of the series will be held during winter quarter and will feature Lisa Coutu, whose research interests involve how various groups’ speaking patterns are formed and maintained within the context of varying coexisting ways of speech.

Reach reporter Diane Han at Twitter: @di_aneee

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