Category Archives: meta

In Case You Missed it… Last Week’s TV News Story and a Book Review

Melissa Luck’s four minute story about the book and the town broadcast on the channel four evening news last Friday.

Before the interview, I was a little worried that the show would inevitably go the direction of either romanticizing or sensationalizing sex work in Wallace. But talking with the journalist/producer turned out to be easier than I anticipated. She somehow made me feel comfortable, like we were just having a conversation, despite the big camera lens and lights in my face.

Talking with Luck

Talking with Melissa Luck at the Oasis Bordello Museum (photo taken from her blog)

I thought the resulting show was professional, multi-faceted, and intimate in tone. But you can judge for yourself by watching it here.

Also, Melissa posted a review of my book on her Blogger site, where she is documenting her resolution to read a book per week this year. Check it out! P.S., her other book reviews are worth your time to read as well — her perspective is funny and feminist, too (imagine that).

More books finally arrive later today! Just in time for my reading and signing event at the Wallace District Mining Museum Thursday, June 8 at 6 pm, if you want to join us.

Interviews and Event Dates

KXLY TV (channel 4) news came over from Spokane to chat with me about the project. The show will broadcast tonight between 6:00-7:00 pm… Here’s the teaser:

I’ll post the online version of that interview when it goes up, too. You can also watch KXLY’s Facebook video preview here:

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Below is an interview I did with the History Press, the company who published the book. It’s almost five minutes long.

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And here is a Facebook live interview I did with Wallace Brewing Company’s Cathleen Ryan as a part of their “conversational beer” series. It’s about thirty minutes long.

I also wanted to share a Google calendar listing event dates. I’ll keep updating this as more events are finalized:

I’m told that more books will arrive on June 6, so I’ll look forward to getting those out to everyone who ordered one… Follow the blog for some fresh content coming soon!

“death reveals masquerade” (update, search terms, and random bonus archival item)

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I’ve hustling on the professor side of my life (lots of student papers at the end of last semester, class planning for the beginnings of this semester, some academic writing deadlines, etc.), but one of my personal commitments for the year is to write here more regularly. I’m going to aim for one post around 700-1000 words a week and go from there. I have a draft of a morality and sex work part II post, but I’m a little tentative about sharing it just now, so I thought I’d go ahead and write a brief update on what’s going on with the project instead. I’m going to present my research to my local Lexington Rotary Club tomorrow night. Here’s the Prezi I’ll be presenting. I hope to add a voice over to this presentation so that people can click through it as though I were actually there in person, but for now it’s just pictures and writing: 100YrsofBrothelsCoverPic(http://bit.ly/100yrsofBrothelsPrezi) I’m also working to revise my already-published podcast and video (yes, there’s a video, but I haven’t published it anywhere yet) to include sound clips from the oral history interviews that I conducted. There is a second podcast on the way as well. And finally, I’ve been working on a publication package (agent query letter, proposal, sample chapter, annotated toc) so I can publish this project as a trade book. As with most things, time is the issue. Even though you supposedly have all this time to write as a professor, my job seems to insist on getting in the way of my writing time. In the meantime, I have been fascinated by checking in on my blog analytics to see how people find my little corner of the web, and plan to experiment with a small site makeover in the not-too-distant future (happy to hear your feedback on this front as well). For now, I wanted to share a screen shot of recent search terms that led people to find this webspace, because I bet others will enjoy it as much as I have been (I fuzzed out the judge’s name out of respect for privacy): Search Terms And a random treat: while I was working on an article for publication in a scholarly venue over Christmas, I rediscovered this little archival item that I don’t think has a home but thought people might be interested in it, so I’m reproducing it in part below. I found this in the summer of 2010 in the Wallace District Mining Museum archival collection. It was a newspaper obituary that was in the “Historic” file, in a folder labeled “Residents of Shoshone County from 1880s to Present”:

“Death Reveals Masquerade” [no date] Haugan [Montana] — The strange case of the death of the man who lived as a woman came to light this week with the death of Herbert C. Upton also known as Gayle Starr. The man had been living on the Guy Ghilheri [sic] ranch near Haugan for the past year…. Mineral County Sheriff-Coroner Francis Tamietti was summoned and the body was taken to a mortuary. There the unusual nature of the deceased was discovered. Unusual, because as far as any local people knew, the man represented himself as a woman. He wore woman’s clothing, used heavy make-up and used the feminine name Gayle Starr. Last year he worked as a waitress in a West End cafe. Fingerprints were sent to the FBI files for identification, but newspaper clippings indicated a connection with the name Herbert C. Upton. He was about 50 years of age.

Now that we have more awareness and acceptance about transgender people, we would probably write a different narrative for Gayle Starr’s obituary [Update: one of my former colleagues actually followed up on this story and attempted to do something along these lines. Check it out here: http://lifebeyondbivalence.blogspot.com/2015/03/meditations-on-life-of-gayle-starr.html]. Thought some people I know might be interested in this little piece of Inland Northwest trans history. Lots of exciting stuff happening with this project–I’ll be coming back to Wallace again this summer and am hoping to share my work with WHS alumni who come back for the All-Class/Slippery Gulch (just got my invite in the mail), and I am looking forward to hearing more stories from people. My big goal is to finish a full draft of the project by late August. Stay tuned for more soon!

work plan summer 2015

I’m looking forward to returning to Idaho this summer. Here’s my vision for continuing this work full time, May-August 2015.

My project explores the historic impact and continued influence of madams and working girls in Wallace, Idaho. I examine this rural silver mining community to explain how social values circulated through small talk, enabling the open secret presence of brothel-based sex work from the 1880s-1990s.

Wallace didn’t just tolerate prostitution. In fact, community members embraced it, making it a part of the town’s identity. The larger question motivating this study is: how do communities negotiate values in order to create and change culture? By focusing on Wallace and the stories in circulation about its past, this study also illuminates narratives influential in creating and maintaining cultural identity mythologies of the American West. My goal is to complete a book that is scholarly in terms of methods and research, but accessible for a broader public audience beyond the boundaries of the academy.

Because my research asks how we work together to create culture, identity, and negotiate our values within communities, it has been of interest to audiences across a range of discourse communities. The topic has also been of significance both in scholarly and popular spheres: a fascination with stories and desires prohibited in “polite company” enabled the spread of gossip about the brothels and their role in Wallace, and those who could not otherwise satisfy subversive desires lived through the stories of others. As University of Idaho historian Katherine Aiken suggested to me in 2010, the presence of tolerated prostitution gives the “upright” members of the community an excuse to discuss taboo topics. Through the years, the community could point to the brothels and know the town hadn’t abandoned mining camp roots—and accompanying libertarian values—forming the residents’ sense of collective identity.

Wallace, a rural, working-class town where the currency of community news and norms flies by word of mouth, has been an instructive case for examining how gossip orients cultural values and group identity as they circulate in a persuasive and creative way within the community. My approach to this research enhances our ability to understand the resonance of rumor within the interconnected dynamics of time and space: communal acts of creating and passing along stories reverberate at a frequency that harmonizes the traditions of the past with the unpredictable developments of the future. In other words, gossip is a stabilizing force. Small talk offers a productive point of entry into the social values grounding a community’s sense of shared identity; it offers my research an entry point as well.

Scholars of rhetoric are particularly interested in developing new ways of thinking about methods as flexible, adaptable to contingent situations and responsive to an ancient Greek understanding of “kairos,” the qualitative aspect of time (as opposed to “chronos,” time’s quantitative counterpart). Thus, my orientation to this research has been innovative and experimental. During the course of this study, I’ve been working on an approach specific to studying social processes at the intersection of collective invention (the study of argument creation, values negotiation, and creativity within social groups) and historiography (the rhetorical and socio-political process of constructing histories). I will demonstrate that community-based research and writing can serve public and non-academic audiences while also upholding rigorous scholarly standards and influencing cutting-edge scholarship.

I enrich and extend a body of scholarship in the field of rhetoric (influenced in large part by the work of Michel Foucault) that seeks to understand the social aspects of persuasion as communication travels across networks, and I examine these questions while taking into account temporal and spatial considerations. My research also contributes to work by scholars such as Carole Blair and Jessica Enoch that examines the role of public memory, asking how we work together to understand and build our past. As Jackie Jones Royster has urged us to do, I am continuing important recovery and interpretation work by telling the stories that are often neglected, “distorted,” or obscured in some way. This research contributes to our understanding of civic discourse as I document working-class persuasive narratives involved in creating community identity. And finally, the eventual book project will have cross-disciplinary relevance, reaching beyond the boundaries of academic interests, especially insofar as I am able to discuss the role of government and moral negotiations in spaces where public-private distinctions blur.

Research Work Plan

Thus far, I have been gathering and interpreting both qualitative and quantitative data on the construction and negotiation of the history of prostitution in Wallace. I have conducted two summers of research so far, in 2010 and 2014, focusing on the women who ran and worked in the brothels, the community’s understanding of their role, and the culture of the town as it facilitated their continued presence. The outlines of a rhetorical narrative have been fleshed out as I’ve been processing published sources both scholarly and popular, unpublished sources, and oral histories, some of which I found at North Idaho College, but most of which I initiated, conducted, and transcribed, totaling several hundred pages single-spaced. I created two 10-15 minute educational videos, two 15-20 minute podcasts, presented my work to the local community, and I have laid the foundation for a book-length project.

I will continue to work on location in order to turn my current draft into an actual book manuscript. I have several more oral histories to document, but other than those, the research has been gathered together and much of it has been processed. It is time to publish and publicize the work in a substantial way, making it available and accessible for stakeholder audiences, including tourists, museums, and others who have funded and contributed to this research. Primarily, I need time and support to finish the book in Wallace because serendipity happens there. It is crucial that I am in town during the all-class reunion in late July/early August 2015 so I can solicit feedback, ideas, and final contributions during that time, in addition to spreading the word on the project for the people who are most likely to be interested in it.

I have been adapting and building upon research methods developed by scholars such as Gesa E. Kirsch and John Howard, who understand the “lived and local process of archival work” as they also attend to the creation and interpretation of archives and public memory beyond traditional institutional boundaries. My work extends Julie Lindquist’s methodology for documenting working-class rhetorics, as it addresses questions of collective invention, gossip, and public memory. Specifically, my approach has been involving community members in the creation of our shared history, documenting and tracing individuals’ stories to identify the available means of persuasion as it circulates and transforms, guided by the ever-present resonant past. The circulation of gossip—influential small talk often overlooked as insignificant—turns out to be the central component in an invisible yet immanent private yet palpable social network that invented and continues to invent the rhetorical needs of the community. By conducting oral histories and comparing them to physical documents and historic events, I have been demonstrating how stories travel across time and space as they ossify resonant interpretations into repeated patterns, pulling the past into the present.

During oral history analysis, I have been privileging:

– stories that agree with the written records and social/historical context as documented by the written records and multiple oral histories;

– novelty and creativity, paying special attention to perspectives offering alternative or unexpected explanations as possibilities, balancing their likelihood with Occam’s Razor;

– multiple accounts that independently repeat the same story, details, or lines of reasoning, especially if those accounts are offered reluctantly or not necessarily in the storytellers’ or community’s own best interest.

I have had to be creative about locating written records, some of which are hiding in basements, closets, and storage rooms, but I have also been able to rely on court documents, city council minute books, scholarship by other locals in unpublished manuscript form, newspaper accounts and archival/primary source documents found in libraries or museums, such as Sanborn fire insurance maps and WWI anti-prostitution propaganda, Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office records, and FBI records. For the process of documenting oral histories, I have been relying on personal referral (snowball sampling) for connection to research participants. During the conversations, which are recorded and transcribed unless circumstances complicate the process or the participant declines, we let the talk meander and I ask follow up or elaboration questions. Primarily, though, I provide a forum for storytelling.

The Virginia Military Institute’s IRB approved the research protocol for this project. My informed consent for research participants is here:

Informed Consent Document--Final

Public Presentations

I have presented my preliminary analyses in the context of an invited talk for Wake Forest University’s women’s and gender studies program as well as at the national Feminisms and Rhetorics conference in 2013. In the spring of 2014, I discussed my research at the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association conference and in June of 2014, I focused on the public engagement, digital archiving, and virtual exhibition aspects of this work when I presented at the national Computers and Writing conference. I also gave a talk for a crowd of about 50 local people in June of 2014 at the City Limits Pub in Wallace. It was basically standing room only, and yet many people told me later that they’d missed it for one reason or another and would like to know when I present again in the future. So I think there will be continued interest.

I am also adding to the digital education productions I’ve already created, sharing my work in a meaningful public forum online as well as in person, and thus increase the reach and impact of my work: I have an idea for another podcast focusing on the WWI era propaganda, and I will be enhancing the video products I’ve already made by adding more pictures and a soundtrack.

Outcome

My ultimate goal is to publish this work in book form. The academic community has encouraged this research with funding and I have already presented some of my findings in that context. I have a skeletal outline drafted, and most of my 2010 research is in the order I want, in a fragmented sort of way. I need to add information from my 2014 research. There is enough polished material to fill out an introduction and conclusion, but the in-between is much sketchier. I have divided the work into four parts, organized chronologically, in order to develop the story as a narrative: 1. the early mining camp days section is dense and thorough but not very engaging at this point; 2. my developed and nuanced WWI-WWII era needs to shift its academic language toward layperson accessibility; 3. the post-WWII part is currently oral histories cobbled together and framed by my notes but lacking in-depth interpretation; and 4. the final part examines the closure of the houses and ongoing negotiation of how we interpret Wallace’s past, while meandering into the FBI raid and subsequent trial drama a bit. I am confident that I can transform this drafty document into a pretty solid manuscript by the end of August, after spending the summer of 2015 in Idaho.