Washington State Magazine

Winter 2008


Winter 2008

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In This Issue...

Features

On the waterfront: Tacoma's past may be a key to its future Twenty years ago, the City Club of Tacoma approached the city with a plan to unify the waterfront and build a walking path from the Tacoma Dome to Point Defiance. The painstakingly researched report urged that the entire waterfront be redesigned as a people place. Lara Hermann '95 was thrilled when a city hall worker handed her the document. "It was like a present just lands in your lap," she says. by Hannelore Sudermann; Photos by Ingrid Barrentine { WEB EXCLUSIVE–COORDINATES: Tacoma's Waterfront. An interactive map and photo gallery. View photographer Ingrid Barrentine's images along the Tacoma waterfront. }

Fine Specimens Washington State University is home to three superb research collections, all begun soon after the young agricultural college opened its doors. What makes them research collections, says Ownbey Herbarium director Larry Hufford, is "sheer numbers." The Conner Zoology Museum has about 69,000 specimens, the Herbarium about 375,000, and the James Entomology Collection more than 1.25 million. These numbers make WSU's collections among the best in the nation. by Cherie Winner { WEB EXCLUSIVES: Videos and stories }

Rethinking the fundamentals Feeding the world may require us to use old knowledge in new ways. Although the prices of fuel and commodities have dropped since early summer, the volatility of their relationship will surely dog us for the foreseeable future. While stock prices may temporarily overshadow food prices in the public consciousness, some farmers and researchers are looking at different ways of doing business, perhaps moving the land-grant university back to its founding purpose. by Tim Steury

L'Américain en Provence A story about an expatriate—and about his wine. Provence is a world away from Bellevue, where Denis Gayte '97 grew up. And French winemaking is another world away from the public relations career he abandoned. So there he was, with his French heritage and a newly minted "young French winemaker" degree—but still referred to (and always affectionately) as l'Américain. by Andrea Vogt

Panoramas

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Afghanistan success story - a gallery }

Departments

:: FIRST WORDS

:: SPORTS: Unstoppable Rueben Mayes

:: LAST WORDS: Murrow's door

:: LETTERS

:: IN SEASON: A Season for Seeds

{ WEB EXCLUSIVESVideo: "This is W.S.C." - A movie introducing Washington State College in 1952, narrated by Edward R. Murrow. }

Tracking

Cover illustration: Marbled murrelets take flight, by Darlene McElroy.

Panoramas
Jay Barton, a pre-med student, is one of 3,400 freshmen invited to participate in this year's Common Reading Program. The entire freshman class received copies of Stiff, a book that explores what can happen to a human body after death. The text, which blends science, history, and humor, was a starting point for undergraduates to learn more about anthropology, anatomy, and forensic research taking place on campus.

Jay Barton, a pre-med student, is one of 3,400 freshmen invited to participate in this year's Common Reading Program. The entire freshman class received copies of Stiff, a book that explores what can happen to a human body after death. The text, which blends science, history, and humor, was a starting point for undergraduates to learn more about anthropology, anatomy, and forensic research taking place on campus.

Everybody reads

by | © Washington State University

When Mary Roach was researching her book on human cadavers, she attended a seminar where plastic surgeons practiced techniques on severed human heads. She also visited a body farm in Tennessee to see remains in various states of decay. And she stood at an operating table to witness an organ harvest from a brain-dead patient whose heart was still beating.

While doing all these things, Roach simply followed her curiosity as it led her into some extraordinary places.

The author came to Pullman this fall in conjunction with the selection of her bestseller Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers for Washington State University's Common Reading Program. All 3,400 freshmen had been handed the book in hopes that they would read it and take part in a campus-wide conversation.

Stiff was the very first book the freshmen received as college students. That's quite an honor, says Roach, though she had no doubt they would be intrigued. Roach had written about cadaver research for Salon.com. The columns received such a large number of hits, she knew there would be interest in developing the subject into a book.

"The topic is a taboo, and partly there's a fascination for it because it's taboo," she says over a bowl of cereal at the Holiday Inn in Pullman this September. She is bracing herself for a full day of events at WSU, ending with a campus-wide lecture and starting with a grilling from freshmen in a world civilization class. "How did you manage to stay respectful of the dead?" "What was your most disturbing experience?" "Is practicing plastic surgery an ethical use of cadavers?"

This book was a great choice for the university's common reading program, says Karen Weathermon, director of WSU Learning Communities. It's a good blend of science and literature, written in a lively, funny way. Because its subject matter is rooted in science and history, teachers have been able to use it in a variety of classes, she says. It also has connections to research being done by faculty here at WSU.

This is the second year of the common reading program and with Stiff as a starting point, professors were able to flesh out different aspects of death, the body, and science. A series of Tuesday night seminars included a primer from entomologist Bethany Marshall on using insects to determine how long something has been dead. Brian Kemp, an archeologist, is using DNA to answer questions about prehistoric cultures. And a panel of faculty including Dave Conley, head of WSU's human anatomy lab, talked about the value of the human body.

Even with the book's potential for discussion, those on the committee that chose the common reading text were reluctant to admit how much they liked Stiff. Roach's approach, the dark subject, and her light touch made reading it a guilty pleasure, admits Weathermon. What comes to mind is the episode of Roach traveling into China trying to track down the truth behind a news wire story that two brothers were using human flesh to make Sichuan-style dumplings.

That's the thing about non-fiction, says Roach, "it takes you to these worlds you didn't know existed. It's like going to a university, but it's less expensive." Given that most non-fiction paperbacks run about $12, "it's really an extraordinary learning bargain."

Non-fiction books like Roach's have surged in popularity in recent years. Roach thinks it's not a matter of writing, but of marketing. All along there were really gifted non-fiction writers—Joseph Mitchell and E.B. White to name two—but they didn't really have a genre, she says. Now that there's a "literary non-fiction" label readers know there's something out there they might enjoy.

And for college students, even if the subject is grotesque, it may whet their appetites to read more.

Categories: Literature | Tags: Cadavers, Reading

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