New Faculty Friday: Q&A with Nora Webb Williams

SPIA is excited to introduce Nora Webb Williams, assistant professor of international affairs!

Nora Webb Williams received her PhD from the University of Washington and has a masters degree in both Public Affairs and Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University. Her research interests are economic resilience and the impact of colonialism on social trust, with an emphasis on the former Soviet Union. She also focuses on the impact of social media and images on protests, focusing on movements like the 2010 revolution in Kyrgysztan and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time in nature, hiking, and running. She also enjoys reading fiction and singing.

What attracted you to UGA?
NW: The faculty in this department are doing fantastic work, so I was very glad to have the opportunity to join the group! Many people told me that UGA students are exceptional (undergraduates and graduate students alike), and that’s been my impression of them as well. I’m also delighted to have the chance to work with dedicated staff

Where did you grow up?
NW: I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What are you working on that you’re most excited about?
NW: I do a lot of work with images-as-data, which means I’m analyzing millions of digitized images, mostly from social media. There is so much that we can learn about how images shape political life all around the world. I get to learn lots of new things in this work, from new technical methods to established theories from a range of disciplines.

Please tell us about your research interests.
NW: Most of my research is in the former Soviet Union. I think and write a lot about politics in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Ukraine. I’m particularly interested in the long-term impacts of Russian colonial rule in Central Asia on social trust and economic resilience, with side interests in nationalism and civil war. I also research social movement mobilization online, particularly the impact of images on mobilization. For that work, I’ve studied a wide range of cases, from Black Lives Matter to the 2010 revolution in Kyrgyzstan.  

What is your favorite food?
NW: There’s a noodle dish called laghman that I adore. It’s made in Central Asia, often from Uighur or Uzbek recipes. But basically I’m happy eating anything with noodles.

Please tell us one fun fact about yourself.
NW: I served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan from 2006-2008. While I was there, I competed on a cross-country ski team and sang lots of Kazakh duets.

What is one goal you have for yourself for the next year?
NW: Publishing new research is a constant goal for me. I’d also like to learn how to identify all the new birds that I’m seeing in Georgia.

Who inspires you in your research or career?
NW: Elinor Ostrom. Her work changed political science and economics. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics – and she’s a political scientist by training! I hear she was also a kind person and an exceptional mentor, which are traits I’d like to emulate.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
NW: The ability to feel rested and refreshed after only 4 hours of sleep. But also flying.

What advice do you have for SPIA students?
NW: Go to your professors’ office hours! Take every opportunity to get to know your faculty members. We are all very busy people, but we also love to know what our students are interested in. Bring in a question about something you’d like to know more about that is relevant to your coursework.