“Speed Dating” book fair engaging Stanford writers, public audiences to be held Saturday

April 20, 2018, 12:03 a.m.

"Speed Dating" book fair engaging Stanford writers, public audiences to be held Saturday

“A Company of Authors,” an annual book fair that invites Stanford scholars to discuss their recently-published work with members of the Stanford community and the broader public, will take place at the Stanford Humanities Center on Saturday afternoon. The event is principally sponsored by the Stanford Continuing Studies program.


Peter Stansky, professor of history emeritus,  who has hosted the event every year since its inception 15 years ago, invites students to take “a guided tour of Stanford books by the authors themselves, rather than just wander around the shelves of the bookstore.”

“The event gives everybody there a glimpse into the richness and variety of what Stanford-connected people are writing,” Stansky added.

The Stanford Bookstore, another event sponsor, will sell the authors’ texts at a discounted rate at the event.

This year’s book fair features 21 authors, all of whom are scheduled to make a brief presentation about their most recent publication and will subsequently answer audience questions and engage the crowd in further conversation.

To showcase thematic multiplicity within the broader field of humanities, the fair’s prevalent texts address issues ranging from violence to love, state control to Stanford history.

The fast-paced and interactive nature of the book fair has earned it the nickname “speed-dating for the humanities,” according to Stanford Humanities Center Director Caroline Winterer, who is also a history professor.   

The event seeks to bridge the divide between the scholarly world and the outside community by giving attendees the opportunity to interact with leading scholars and get their books signed.

“You get to hear from the author rather than just from reading the book,” Winterer said, adding that she enjoys discovering the challenges and struggles the authors overcome in writing their books. “That’s really our mission: to open up the humanities to the public … and attract people of every age group.”

The Daily interviewed five of the authors who will present their books at Saturday’s event to find out more about recent scholarship.

“Walking the Farm” by Tom DeMund

“Hiking the Dish” is a time-honored tradition at Stanford and a popular recreational activity, but in his text, Tom DeMund ’67 addresses 18 other themed trails through Stanford’s campus and the nearby hills for students to try out. His new book guides hiking-enthusiasts past nature reserves and breathtaking views while interweaving descriptions of notable campus landmarks — such as the Cantor Arts Center and the Red Barn — with accounts of the history that helped shape the locations.

The trail in DeMund’s first chapter illustrates the University architecture before and after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, while another chapter pinpoints the location on Stanford Avenue that was once home to a working nuclear reactor. The walks feature detailed maps, driving directions and nearby eateries.

“I wrote the book so that people could experience the campus either by reading or by going around and seeing it,” DeMund said, adding that his favorite parts of campus are those that have a lot of greenery and give him a chance to encounter Stanford students. “Seeing the students wide-eyed and getting an education, that’s part of the fun.”

“Contraceptive Diplomacy” by Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci

Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci, affiliate of the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, offers a transnational history of the birth control movement in her book. “Contraceptive Diplomacy” traces the development of birth control in the United States and Japan, following the lives and collaboration of the two birth control activists, the American Margaret Sanger and the Japanese Ishimoto Shizue.

While the development of birth control is often considered a giant stride forward in the feminist movement, Takeuchi-Demirci sought to uncover the story’s darker side.

“Reproductive control has been used for different political purposes,” she said, setting the issue in the context of the larger ideological debates around eugenics and overpopulation at the time.  

Discussions in the recent #MeToo movement resonated with Takeuchi-Demirci. “I think [my book] gives some historical background to women’s sexual autonomy and bodily autonomy for this particular moment,” she said.

“Barbed-Wire Imperialism” by Aidan Forth

Associate Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago and debut author Aidan Forth Ph.D. ’12 examines the origin of concentration camps and places their origin in the Second Boer War, where such camps were erected by British imperialists in the Victorian era. His book argues that the British camps laid the groundwork for the atrocities of future regimes.

“The institution of the concentration camps doesn’t come out of nowhere,” Forth said. “Camps are products of modernity at large.”

Forth explained that he became interested in the history of concentration camps in his second and third year as a doctoral student at Stanford when he embarked on his dissertation. Motivated to discover more about British colonial violence, Forth conducted a global research project, traveling to the British, South African and Indian national archives.

“We knew an awful lot about concentration camps but very little from a British perspective,” Forth said. “So, I was interested in what Britain’s contribution to this larger global story was.”

“An Elegy for Lovers” by Peter Carroll

History lecturer and self-proclaimed historian-poet Peter Carroll weaves together the “ill-fated love story of Maureen and Willy” in his new collection of lyrical poetry, “An Elegy for Lovers.”

He said that the poems follow a complicated love affair, while also addressing themes of innocence, loss and abuse.

Carroll argued that his history books and poetry occupy separate territories.

“Poetry is about the emotional underlife,” he said. “The point about non-fiction writing for academics is to be able to describe as clearly as possible what happened. But one of those writings tamps into human emotion.”

“Finding Fibonacci” by Keith Devlin

Stanford mathematician and the National Public Radio’s “Math Guy,” Keith Devlin, embarked on a quest to recreate the life of the medieval mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, also known as Fibonacci. The culmination of this journey was Devlin’s book “The Man of Numbers,” published in 2011 and centered on Fibonacci’s work on arithmetic “Liber Abbaci.”

Six years later, in 2017, Devlin published “Finding Fibonacci,” a book about a book about a book. He recounts his 10-year process researching and reconstructing the life of the elusive Italian mathematician, about whom little is known yet who left an enduring legacy.

“Working on the Leonardo [da Pisa] project made it very clear the impact of changing the notations of Roman numerals to Hindu-Arabic arithmetic,” Devlin said. “It [marked] the creation of the Western world.”

The book includes anecdotes about his own adventures researching in Italy, spotlighting Devlin himself rather than his subject, Fibonacci.

“It’s the difference between the guy making the movie and the guy in front of the camera,” he said. “Being in the story gave me a feeling of exposure I’d never had before.”

Winterer encouraged students to attend “A Company of Authors” on Saturday and emphasized that engaging the public in literary discourse is central to Stanford Humanities Center’s mission.

“The book event is one of the very public, community-oriented events that we do,” she said. “We are trying to embody the idea that the humanities are about human beings.”


Correction: A previous version of this article did not mention Stanford Continuing Studies, the event’s principal cosponsor. The article has been updated to accurately reflect the cosponsorship between the Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford Continuing Studies and the Stanford Bookstore. The Daily regrets the error. 


Contact Yasmin Samrai at ysamrai ‘at’ stanford.edu

Yasmin Samrai ’21 is a Desk Editor for Local. She hails from London, UK. She loves traveling, listening to 80s music and sipping Earl Grey tea. Feel free to ask her about her favourite James Bond or talk politics. Contact her at ysamrai ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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