Townsend Alumna Zeynep Gürsel Recalls Program's Formative Influence

John Paulas
May 24, 2016
Zeynep Gürsel Photograph

Townsend Fellows alumna Zeynep Gürsel, now an assistant professor in Macalester College’s International Studies Department, credits her participation in the Townsend Fellows group with shaping her recently released book Image Brokers: Visualizing World News in the Age of Digital Circulation (UC Press, 2016). Gürsel argues in the book that news images function as formative fictions — fictional insofar as the images are constructed and culturally mediated, and formative because their public presence and circulation have real consequences in the world.

Gürsel knew from the onset that Image Brokers was a highly interdisciplinary project, and the Townsend Center Fellows group provided the forum in which she began to understand the importance of learning to speak to different audiences.

The collaborative and collegial group proved immediately productive of a publication for Gürsel, then a Townsend dissertation fellow. Right after her presentation for the Townsend Fellows, she recalls, faculty fellow Leigh Raiford (African American Studies) invited her to submit a piece for a special forum on photography and race in English Language Notes that she and Elizabeth Abel (English) were editing. “That was a huge vote of confidence,” Gürsel says, “a highly interdisciplinary vote of confidence.”

Gürsel also credits AnnaLee Saxenian (School of Information) with helping her see that she was working on an ethnography of an industry with various regional cultures and global reach.

But Raiford and Saxenian were not the only fellows who made a difference for Gürsel. She feels equally appreciative of learning about the broad range of subjects the other fellows were researching and for the opportunity to delve deeply into others' intellectual interests.

“I didn't know then how rare it can be in academia,” she explains, “to have a space to converse at length and regularly about passions and ideas. That was the gift of the Townsend, and I am very grateful I had it.”