Lively opportunities are presented by WSU’s next common reading book — “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” — about the uses of the human body after death.
Melissa Goodman-Elgar, assistant professor of archeology, finds a “rich source in this topic” and plans to build the theme of “What can a body tell us?” throughout her Anthropology 101 class.
“In my field, we use bodies as data,” she said. “We can examine the body as we talk about evolution with fossils, in archaeology with burial and analyses of bones, and cultural and religious aspects of human remains through examples like Kennewick Man. We can use bodies for discussions of migration, nutrition and religion.”
Streit-Perham residential education director Sara Agostinelli said the topics can carry over to living spaces. “The book’s an entertaining and light approach to academics and science.”
Insight and humor
The prize-winning, best-selling, nonfiction publication was selected by committee following its nomination by Julie Neuffer, historian and world civilization instructor.
She had planned to use the book in a course to illustrate concepts of civilization as evidenced by ancient and contemporary burial practices. “I think freshmen will find it all very interesting,” she said.
“Stiff,” authored by California writer Mary Roach and published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2003, will be distributed to about 3,300 freshmen attending summer orientation sessions in Pullman and to others as fall semester begins.
“We think we have made a great choice. It will be used in freshman classes across numerous disciplines and in their living spaces,” said Susan Poch, associate vice president for educational development.
“The committee — made up of faculty and staff — found the book to be engrossing while still presenting historical, scientific and social issues with insight and humor.”
“Stiff” is WSU’s second common reading book. “Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It,” by New York Times science writer Gina Kolata, was the first in 2007.
What is similar about the two book selections, said Karen Weathermon, director of learning communities, is that each “introduces students to avenues of research being done at WSU in a variety of disciplines.”
For example, students encountered topics from “Flu” in such varied places as Science 101 lab experiments, archival research in world civilizations, and in student-written plays.
At WSU Pullman, learning communities are created through Freshman Focus, a nationally acclaimed program in which freshmen share classes and living spaces. Goodman-Elgar, Agostinelli, and Neuffer are among the 66 WSU faculty, residential education directors and librarians involved in Freshman Focus and using “Stiff” this fall.
Faculty interested in using the book in classes can sign up for a copy at Others can make arrangements at the same site to purchase the book.
Author will visit in the fall
“Stiff” author Mary Roach and the national traveling exhibit of “Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature” will both be at WSU this fall in connection with the common reading. Times, dates and places will be announced.
WSU Libraries will sponsor the exhibit, which was designed by the National Library of Medicine with the American Libraries Association.