Last updated on Feb 20, 2017
By David Capobianco
Associate Professor of History Willie Hiatt’s book, “The Rarified Air of the Modern: Airplanes and Technological Modernity in the Andes,” was published by the Oxford University Press in October.
The book is a detailed description of how Peruvians used aviation developments and other technological advances in the early 20th century to transform Peru and the rest of the Andean states and modernizing the area.
“It tells the story of technology, but through a very human lens,” Hiatt said. “It is an accessible book that really allowed me to tell what I find to be a very compelling story of human aviation, while at the same time, making a bigger statement about technology,” he said. “There are a lot of lessons we can learn today from that time period.”
“The book is interesting for history majors, but also is accessible for any college student,” said Vanessa Verni, a graduate student in history who purchased Hiatt’s book. “He writes in such a way that is easily read and intriguing no matter how much background knowledge of Latin American history you have.”
“The book was a multi-year project,” Hiatt said. The book was part of Hiatt’s dissertation, the lengthy thesis usually required in obtaining a doctor of philosophy degree. “The quickest you can go from beginning a dissertation program to getting a book published is about five years,” he explained. “But very few people are able to do it.” He said that for some “it could easily take 10 years” to complete the process.
Hiatt said he’s “happy the book is out” and that it is a “relief” that it was finally published. Hiatt spent over a year in Peru researching and learning about the topic, another year writing about it, and then several more years turning it into a book manuscript while also teaching classes at Post. “He’s been talking about the book for as long as I’ve known him so he is definitely very proud of his accomplishments,” said Verni. Kyrsten Polanish, an LIU Post alumna who had Hiatt as a professor, said “I know he has been working on it for years now and has put endless hours into the research and writing of it.”
Hiatt has been a professor of Latin American history at LIU Post since 2010. “He cared about his students and he would always push us to stretch the boundaries of our capabilities,” said Polanish. “And I’m sure his book is a prime example of him pushing his own capabilities.”
Hiatt’s interest in Latin American history was piqued when he was studying Spanish at the University of Kentucky, and he decided to take a two-week trip to Cusco, Peru. “I just fell in love with Peru,” he said. “At that point I had no plans whatsoever to do a masters, much less a Ph.D., but I got the urge to go back to school and do a masters, and chose a Peruvian topic for my masters thesis, and absolutely loved it.”
Hiatt earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of California. This was Hiatt’s first published book, although he has helped edit and translate a previous published book titled “In Search of an Inca: Identity and Utopia in the Andes,” and has also contributed several articles and entries to multiple historical encyclopedias.
Hiatt’s book is available for purchase in hardcover on Amazon.