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Researcher Finishes Book with Funding from Writing Fellowships

When Sara Ritchey arrived on campus a few years ago, she received an email from Alan Rutenberg, research development manager in UT’s Office of Research and Engagement.

“Tell me about your research,” he asked, “and how I can help.”

At the time, Ritchey, associate professor of history, was trying to finish writing a book exploring gender and medical epistemology in the Middle Ages, and Rutenberg suggested that she apply for writing fellowships.

“Alan helped me identify the fellowships for which I was qualified,” said Ritchey. “He also assembled a panel of readers, faculty members from UT who had previously won these fellowships, who were able to read my application and offer suggestions and feedback.”

As a result, she received two fellowships, one from the American Council of Learned Societies and the other from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2004, Rutenberg began a humanities fellowship program at UT. With his leadership, UT now ranks ninth in the country in the number of NEH fellowships awarded, tied with Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill.

Sara Ritchey


With these two fellowships, Ritchey was able to finish writing the last chapters of her book, send it to outside peer reviewers, and incorporate their feedback. She was able to use the funding to cover her salary as she worked on the book and travelled to manuscript libraries in Paris, Brussels, and London.

Her book, Acts of Care: Recovering Women in Late Medieval Health, is now at press and under contract with Cornell University Press.

“My book explores religious women, mostly nuns, who lived in Northern Europe in the late middle ages and provided health care for the surrounding community. They opened hospitals and leprosaria,” she explained. “They also worked with the sick and the dying in their homes, in churches, in cemeteries – doing everything from bandaging wounds to feeding and nursing the sick and dying, burying them, saying prayers for the sick and dying, and overseeing burial and ritual practices surrounding death.

“My research explores the range of their caregiving practices but also the knowledge and the understanding of medicine that they had and how they transmitted it to other women in their communities.”

Ritchey added that Rutenberg’s expertise and broad background helped her communicate her research goals more effectively as she prepared her fellowship applications.

“He had an ability to identify what, to an outside reader or a non-specialist, didn’t make sense; what aspects of my application needed more clarification,” she recalled. “And he’s also a really great editor so he was able to offer feedback on language, style, and clarity that was very helpful.”

Ritchey encourages other humanities faculty to reach out to Rutenberg as they pursue their research agenda, and especially recommends the panel of outside reviewers he can convene.

“The panelists were able to identify the points in my application that might have seemed too narrow, that might need defining or clarification for many diverse readers in the humanities,” she explains, noting that fellowship applications are read by review boards that come from all disciplines.

“It helps to have feedback from many different perspectives. When you’re in the middle of a major research project, you know your material so well, and it can often be very precise and very niche. Having broad feedback helps you identify sections of your proposal that might not make sense to others, might not appeal to as broad of an audience. It was extremely helpful.”



Sharon Pound (, 865-974-1475)