How I Made This Book 2021

Did you know that writing a book can change your dietary habits? That was the case for one of our new authors! Read on for a look at their journey to publication.

Adia Harvey Wingfield
Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor, Department of Sociology

Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy (University of California Press, 2019)

Funding: Weidenbaum Center, WashU sabbatical leave

Research sites: One university hospital, one public hospital, and one private medical practice

Number of years working on the book: 4, including data collection and writing

The process of writing this book spanned the birth of a child, a move halfway across the country, preschool admissions delays, co-chairing a search committee, and a presidential election with a very unexpected outcome! But it finally got finished, so no complaints. 


Claudia Swan
Mark Steinberg Weil Professor in Art History, Department of Art History & Archaeology

Rarities of These Lands: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Dutch Republic (Princeton University Press, 2021)

Rarities of these Lands grew out of a decade of research that I conducted in The Netherlands, Germany, France, the U.K., Turkey and the U.S. I received major support from the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) in Berlin. I feel very fortunate to have spent a year in residence at NIAS and at MPIWG, respectively. In addition to their research facilities and libraries, I consulted museum collections, archives, and libraries in major cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Istanbul, London, Paris and less familiar sites such as Harderwijk, NL and Petworth, England.

I feel especially fortunate to have had the time and support to allow my initial plans for the book to grow and shift in response to what I discovered in archives, observed in museums and read in libraries. The book is, as a result of the institutional support I received, and the feedback of many students and colleagues near and far, a much more complex study than I foresaw a decade ago.  

My most memorable research adventure took place in the National Archives in The Hague, where I went one day early in my research intent on reviewing records of the first Dutch state gift to the Ottoman sultan Ahmed I, presented in 1612/1613. This huge gift — a shipload of valuable wares including many exotic items the Dutch had access to through trade, such as birds of paradise and porcelain — is central to my book and I knew that the records survived in the collection of the National Archives. When I requested the documents, however, I was told I could not consult them because they were “too historically significant.” After swallowing my disappointment, I rallied my courage and pointed out the paradox of a historian being told she couldn’t study documents because they were (too) historically significant. A very considerate archivist did request the documents, under his name, and passed them along to me. Indeed, it was a treasure trove! I then had to figure out how to study in one day, as I knew the rules wouldn’t change overnight … which is where my phone camera came to the rescue.

Once I’d taken photos, by necessity, with an iPhone, I realized how ideal the platform is for reading seventeenth-century documents: it’s backlit and you can zoom so easily…this opened up a world of possibilities, allowing me to make photos of documents and books and images that otherwise would have taken weeks to transcribe, and continuing my research outside archives, libraries and museums.  


Luis Alejandro Salas
Assistant Professor of Classics, Department of Classics

Cutting Words: Polemical Dimensions of Galen’s Anatomical Experiments (Brill, 2021)

Fellowships: Faculty Fellow, Center for the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis (spring 2019); Loeb Classical Library Foundation Faculty Fellowship (2018–19)

Research sites: I conducted all the research for the book in St. Louis.

Number of years working on the book: 7 years, all told. About 30 percent of the book comes from my doctoral dissertation. The majority of the material in the book, however, is the product of further thought and research after I began my position at Washington University. I benefitted tremendously from discussions with my colleagues in Classics and Philosophy, as well as with some of the historians of early modern science and medicine on campus. I also enjoyed various opportunities to present my research to a wider scholarly audience at conferences. While I had completed most of the foundational research for the book before I took the year of leave in 2018–19, many of the parts of the book came together as a whole in that time, and especially during my stay at the Center for Humanities.

I became a vegetarian as a result of my work on this book!


Jake Rosenfeld
Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology

You’re Paid What You're Worth and Other Myths of the Modern Economy (Belknap Press, 2021)

Funding: Institutional support of various kinds provided the backbone of the project. Support from the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University– St. Louis partially funded the surveys of workers and pay-setters I describe in chapter 2.

Support from the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1727350) funded the pay secrecy survey I describe in chapter 3.

Staff from Qualtrics and GfK, the survey research firms I partnered with, were the ones who actually got my surveys into the field, ensured a sufficient response rate, and conducted critical data quality checks.

Computing support for this research came from a Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development research infrastructure grant (P2C HD042828) to the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology (CSDE) at the University of Washington.

Research sites: My lonely office

Number of years spent working on the book: 7, off and on

Healthy sibling rivalry propelled the project forward. In the time I finished the research for one part of one chapter, my brilliant sister-in-law wrote an entire book. And if my little brother hadn’t begun work on his second one, there’s no telling how many more decades I’d have spent mulling this book over. Nice try, Sam.


Carl Phillips
Professor of English, Department of English

Pale Colors in a Tall Field (Macmillan, 2020)

The only real research required for a book of poems -- for a poet like myself, anyway -- is living deeply,
   paying attention, engaging with risk both in terms of how to write and what to write about. In that sense,
  each of my books is the result of a lifetime of meditating on what it means to be a living human being. But
   to be more precise, the poems here were written over the course of two years.


Rebecca Lester
Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology

Famished: Eating Disorders and Failed Care in America (University of California Press, 2019)

7+ years of ethnographic research
5,000+ hours of participant observation
2,000: practicum hours for MSW
3,000: supervised clinical hours for LCSW
80: formal interviews with clients, clinicians and staff
Hundreds of informal interviews

Number of years working on this book: 15

In some ways, I have been working on Famished most of my life, though the more concentrated research and writing process took about 15 years from start to finish. Part of the reason it took so long is that Famished is intensely personal for me, and it was critical to me that I “get it right” on multiple fronts at once. To do this, I had to return to my own past and connect with many difficult memories and experiences that are germane to the book’s argument, while also being careful to not let my experiences dictate the narrative or make the book about me. Another challenge I faced is that Famished is a genre-bending book that combines ethnography with clinical perspectives and memoir in a way that I hadn’t really seen before, so I had to construct something completely new. I wrestled for years with how to structure the text that wove together the three different perspectives I brought to the project (as an anthropologist, a therapist, and a person with an eating disorder history) while also centering the experiences and perspectives of my interlocutors and telling a coherent narrative.


Bret Gustafson
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

Bolivia in the Age of Gas (Duke University Press, 2020)

Fellowships: Center for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship

Funding: Center for the Humanities Faculty Summer Research Grant

Research site: Bolivia

Number of years spent working on the book: Way too many! The book is historical and ethnographic, based on fieldwork at various points between 2007 and 2019. Written in stints interspersed with teaching work, committee work and family work over several years, it offers reflections and analysis based on my long-term relationship with Bolivian Indigenous movements as well as contemporary concerns around the planetary problem of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas).  


Tili Boon Cuillé
Associate Professor of French, Department of Romance Languages & Literatures

Divining Nature: Aesthetics of Enchantment in Enlightenment France (Stanford University Press, 2020)

Faculty Fellow, Center for the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis (2014)
National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor (2018-19)

The Bloomington Eighteenth-Century Studies Workshop on “Falsehoods, Forgery, Fraud: The Fake Eighteenth Century”
Folger Workshop on “The Languages of Nature: Science, Literature, and the Imagination” (2019).

Research sites
Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Tolbiac), Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra, Bibliothèque Centrale du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Special Collections at Olin Library, the Gaylord Music Library, the Wilson Library (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Edinburgh University Library

Number of years spent working on the book: The better part of 12 years, give or take

For the purposes of this book, I ventured from the familiar territory of eighteenth-century French philosophy, literature, and aesthetics into the domains of natural history, British philosophy, and the history of science and emotion. I also traversed the genres of painting, poetry, opera, and the novel. The highlight of my research was visiting the sites in which these works are housed, including the Château de Malmaison and l’Église Saint-Roch, and exhibits chronicling their history in Paris and Edinburgh.


Lingchei Letty Chen
Associate Professor of Chinese, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years (Cambria Press, 2020)

I joined the humanities center’s Post/Memory Studies Reading Group when I was working on the manuscript. Many of the readings the group did and discussed had greatly inspired the critical methodology I adopted for this book. I am indebted to the center.


Pamela Barmash
Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible & Biblical Hebrew, Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies

The Laws of Hammurabi: At the Confluence of Royal and Scribal Traditions (Oxford University Press, 2020)

Fellowships: Member of the School of Historical Studies, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Funding: Faculty (Summer) Research Grant, Washington University; WU research leave and research account

Research sites: Louvre Museum

Number of years spent working on the book: Ten years, off and on. I began this as a general project on the eternal human activity of interpretation, and then I focused on the very earliest evidence of improvisation (on legal cases and themes). 


William Acree
Associate Professor of Spanish, Department of Romance Languages & Literatures

Staging Frontiers: The Making of Modern Popular Culture in Argentina and Uruguay (University of New Mexico Press, 2019)

Faculty Fellowship, Center for the Humanities
Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities
J. William Fulbright Scholar in Uruguay, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State

Additional funding
Maxwell C. Weiner Humanities Research Grant
Faculty Research Grant (The Graduate School, Washington University in St. Louis)

Research sites
Public archives in Argentina and Uruguay (I’m indebted to many places; to name just a few, the National Archives and the National Libraries in both countries; the National Institute for Theater Studies in Argentina; the José Hernández Museum of Popular Art; and the National Museum of History in Uruguay)
Private collections of actors, playwrights, Creole societies, mutual aid clubs, and philatelists in Buenos Aires and Montevideo
U.S. Library of Congress

Number of years spent working on the book: Around 9, with some pauses in between

Working on this book posed many challenges, primarily related to the ephemeral character of popular culture and my search for its enduring impacts. But it was also a project full of surprises and—dare I say it?—fun.

Learning about outlandish or extravagant acts at circus shows and popular theater, and how these were so well received, to the point of launching an entertainment revolution, kept me engaged. What I found most fascinating, though, and what the book is really all about, is the lasting significance of people coming together across lines of class, ethnicity, and race, day after day, to watch popular dramas staging national tropes that were, for the most part, performed by itinerant, rag-tag troupes of immigrant actors and their descendants. It was an ironic mix, but successful beyond anyone’s imagination.

Now, a year into the pandemic, all of us having experienced the loss of public social life, the entertainment revolution that gave people the chance to go out, to socialize, to mingle, every day and night that is the heart of Staging Frontiers seems all the more salient.



Join us at the Faculty Book Celebration, Thursday, April 1

12 pm | Panel discussion, “Connections: Power and the Politics of Community/University Engagement” 4 pm | Keynote lecture and Washington University faculty speakers

Details & RSVP