Margi Nowak

Margi Nowak

Professor Emerita, Sociology and Anthropology

Margi Nowak is a cultural anthropologist currently working on a book project about the “intertwinings” of her biography, ethnic history and memories, research interests, and the impact of her life experience – including more than four decades of interactions with students and course materials – on what Poet Laureate Joy Harjo has called the “stories within us”: “each … a zigzag of emotional design and ancestral architecture.”

Moving from an undergraduate major in English, to an early graduate school emphasis in Chinese language and literature, to a further movement to Tibetan studies (including not only language but religion and culture), and then, finally, anthropology, it became clear to me that anthropology was one discipline that I would never again have to move toward and then, when new interests beckoned, switch disciplines once more. No topic need be “irrelevant” in anthropology!

In fact, it was Tibetan friends and fieldwork informants in India who got me to look back at my own ethnic heritage – leading to three trips to Poland and including three trips to Auschwitz as well as the glorious castles, fascinating medieval college towns, creative twenty-first-century neo-folk music groups, as well as sites of ghastly horrors. Facing all this, I thought, I could let students see, through class readings and discussions, that one’s ethnic or personal past could be horrendously complicated yet still honestly faced and then deliberately pointed in a direction of compassion.

All of this resulted in my growing realization that Joy Harjo is so profoundly correct: “Each human is a complex, contradictory story. Some stories within us have been unfolding for years, others are trembling with fresh life as they peek above the horizon.”

Over the decades, I have taught courses on refugees, genocide, the anthropology of religion, linguistic anthropology, critical education studies, and critical disability studies. What links all of them is a focus on the ways that “difference” is defined, valued, feared, despised, and/or used to buttress or challenge ranked positions in society.


MWF 9:30–10 a.m. in MC212.

BA Medaille College
MA University of Washington
PhD University of Washington

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