At the Leatherby Libraries, we have an interview series highlighting the work our amazing librarians/archivists accomplish each day. These interviews help inform the community about all the different areas of the library and all the services we have! Wendy Gonaver, our Special Collections & Archives Assistant, was kind enough to answer some questions for us!

Recently, Wendy published a book, The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry. Her book explores the systematic segregation of the mentally ill into specialized institutions within the United States after 1800. She examines the relationship between slavery and early mental health treatment in the United States. She reveals these connections through the histories of two asylums in Virginia: the Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Williamsburg, the first in the nation; and the Central Lunatic Asylum in Petersburg, the first created specifically for African Americans. Through these institution’s untapped archives, Wendy reveals the influence of slavery on patients’ liberties, proper caregiver and patient relationships, healthy religious beliefs, and gender. She was recently interviewed on the podcast Working History, where she discusses her book and the process in which it came to be. A link to the podcast can be found here:


  1. What is your name and title? Wendy Gonaver, Special Collections & Archives Assistant
  2. In what department of the Leatherby Libraries do you work? Special Collections & Archives
  3. How long have you been at Chapman University? Since January 2019
  4. What is your job in a nutshell? Processing archivist and curator
  5. What projects have you worked on since you’ve been at Chapman? Co-curated punk exhibit, curated suffrage centennial display, and processed collections (i.e. wrote Finding Aids for papers of historic interest that are donated to Special Collections)
  6. What are you currently working on? Writing the Finding Aid for the Henri Temianka papers
  7. Have you held any jobs at other universities or libraries? Yes. Most recently, adjunct professor of history at UC San Diego
  8. What are your passions/interests outside of work? Work and job are not the same thing. My work—writing and reading—is my passion.
  9. Where did you get your degree? University of Chicago and Bryn Mawr College for B.A. College of William and Mary for M.A. and Ph.D.
  10. Where is your hometown? Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  11. What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved? Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval
  12. Any fun facts about yourself? I recently published a book: The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry
    A selfie of Wendy Gonaver from the neck up, with archive boxes behind her

    Wendy in the archives