Celebrating Filipino American History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase a dozen Temple University Press titles focusing on Filipino American lives and culture.

Temple University Press is proud to be publishing these two new titles from our Fall list:

Invisible_People_smInvisible People: Stories of Lives at the Margin, by Alex Tizon, Edited by Sam Howe Verhovek, with a Foreword by Antonio Vargas, provides unforgettable profiles of immigrants, natives, loners, villains, eccentrics, and oracles.

The late Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Alex Tizon told the epic stories of marginalized people—from lonely immigrants struggling to forge a new American identity to a high school custodian who penned a New Yorker short story. Edited by Tizon’s friend and former colleague Sam Howe Verhovek, Invisible People collects the best of Tizon’s rich, empathetic accounts—including “My Family’s Slave,” the Atlantic magazine cover story about the woman who raised him and his siblings under conditions that amounted to indentured servitude.

Mining his Filipino American background, Tizon tells the stories of immigrants from Cambodia and Laos. He gives a fascinating account of the Beltway sniper and insightful profiles of Surfers for Jesus and a man who tracks UFOs. His articles—many originally published in the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times—are brimming with enlightening details about people who existed outside the mainstream’s field of vision.

Campaigns_of_Knowledge_SMCampaigns of Knowledge: U.S. Pedagogies of Colonialism and Occupation in the Philippines and Japanby Malini Johar Schueller, makes visible the afterlives of U.S. colonial and occupational tutelage in the Philippines and Japan.

In Campaigns of Knowledge, Malini Schueller contrapuntally reads state-sanctioned proclamations, educational agendas, and school textbooks alongside political cartoons, novels, short stories, and films by Filipino and Filipino Americans, Japanese and Japanese Americans to demonstrate how the U.S. tutelary project was rerouted, appropriated, reinterpreted, and resisted. In doing so, she highlights how schooling was conceived as a process of subjectification, creating particular modes of thought, behaviors, aspirations, and desires that would render the natives docile subjects amenable to American-style colonialism in the Philippines and occupation in Japan.

Here are ten additional Temple University Press books on Filipino American life and culture: 

The Cry and the Dedication, Carlos Bulosan and E. San Juan, Jr. This previously unpublished novel chronicles the adventures of seven Filipino guerrillas rebelling against U.S. domination.

The Day the Dancers Stayed: Performing in the Filipino/American Diasporaby Theodore S. Gonzalves. This book explores the way that cultural celebrations challenge official accounts of the past while reinventing culture and history for Filipino American college students.

Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures, edited by Vincent Rafael. This volume of essays explores postcolonial issues of identity, social control, power, representation, and culture.

Filipino American Livesby Yen Le Espiritu. This book provides first-person narratives by Filipino Americans that reveal the range of their experiencesbefore and after immigration.

Locating Filipino Americans: Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Space, by Rick Bonus. This book defines ethnic identity and social space for Filipino Americans.

On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan, by Carlos Bulosan, edited by E. San Juan, Jr. This book is a collection of writings by a prolific and political Filipino American writer.

The Philippine Temptation: Dialectics of Philippines-U.S. Literary Relations, by E. San Juan, Jr. This book is a passionate discussion of the history of oppositional writing in the Philippines.

Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City, by Benito M. Vergara, Jr. This book examines the double lives of Filipino American immigrants.

Positively No Filipinos Allowed: Building Communities and Discourseedited by Antonio T. Tiongson, Ric V. Gutierrez, and Ed V. Gutierrez. This volume collects essays that challenge conventional narratives of Filipino American history and culture.

San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement, by Estella Habal. This book shows how a protest galvanized a cultural identity for Filipino Americans.

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Temple University Press and Libraries Make 32 Labor Studies Titles Freely Available with NEH Grant

This week in North Philly Notes, we recap our work reissuing out of print Labor Studies titles with the help of Temple University Libraries and an NEH Grant.

In 2017, Temple University Press and Temple University Libraries received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to make a selection of the Press’s outstanding out-of-print labor studies titles freely available online as part of the Humanities Open Book Program. The titles were selected based on their impact on and ongoing relevance to scholars, students, and the general public.

As of October 1, 2019, all 32 titles are available on the Temple University Press website, where they can be read online or downloaded in EPUB, PDF, and MOBI formats. A print-on-demand option is forthcoming. All titles are also available open access on JSTOR and Project MUSE.

The books have been updated with new cover art, and 30 titles feature new forewords by experts in the field of labor studies. The forewords place each book in its appropriate historical context and align the content with recent developments in the field. The selected titles reflect a range of disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, and education.

The NEH grant also made it possible for Temple University Press and Temple University Libraries to host several public programs in conjunction with the reissued titles. A program in November 2018 featured Sharon McConnell-Sidorick and Francis Ryan discussing Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850 by Bruce Laurie. McConnell-Sidorick penned the foreword for the new edition. In April 2019, in support of Phyllis Palmer’s reissued book, Domesticity and Dirt: Housewives and Domestic Servants in the United States, 1920-1945, Premilla Nadasen spoke about how women of color organized after taking over domestic responsibilities from white housewives. And this month, William Jones will present a lecture entitled, “Remembering Philip S. Foner and The Black Worker,” reflecting on the eight-volume series The Black Worker, edited by Philip S. Foner and Ronald L. Lewis. Videos of the presentations will soon be available on Temple University Press’s blog, North Philly Notes.

Mary Rose Muccie, Director of Temple University Press, said, “Labor history is a key area of focus for the Press and today’s labor movement was shaped by many of the people and actions depicted in these titles. We’re grateful to the NEH for allowing us to reissue them without access barriers and help them to find new audiences.”

Annie Johnson, Scholarly Communications Specialist at Temple University Libraries added, “Thanks to the generous support of the NEH, we have been able to introduce these important books to a new generation of scholars, students, and the general public. We’re excited to continue to collaborate with the Press on other open publishing initiatives in order to further our shared mission of making scholarship widely accessible.”

About Temple University Press
Founded in 1969, Temple University Press chose as its inspiration Russell Conwell’s vision of the university as a place of educational opportunity for the urban working class. The Press is perhaps best known as a publisher of books in the social sciences and the humanities, as well as books about Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley region. Temple was an early publisher of books in urban studies, housing and labor studies, organizational reform, social service reform, public religion, health care, and cultural studies.

About Temple University Libraries
Temple University Libraries serve as trusted keepers of the intellectual and cultural record—collecting, describing, providing access to, and preserving a broad universe of materials, including physical and digital collections, rare and unique books, manuscripts, archives, ephemera and the products of scholarly enterprise at Temple. We are committed to providing research and learning services, to providing open access to our facilities and information resources, and to fostering innovation and experimentation.

About The National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Redefining Toxic Masculinity in Trump’s America

This week in North Philly Notes, Cynthia Barounis, author of Vulnerable Constitutions, writes about “anti-prophylactic citizenship,” and Trump’s rhetoric.  

When I first began to develop the concept of “anti-prophylactic citizenship” five years ago in my research on queerness and disability, I did not anticipate how explicitly its opposite would take shape in the campaign, election, and presidency of Donald Trump. To say that Trump ran on a platform of racial exclusion and xenophobia is to state the obvious. But less frequently do we invoke the word “prophylactic” to describe Trump’s obsession with closed borders. Our discussions of prophylaxis tend to center, more progressively, on preventative medicine and public health. Against the puritanism of abstinence-only education, safe sex campaigns advocate the availability of prophylactic barriers to minimize the risk of STIs. And against the autism panic of anti-vaxxers, immunization records in schools are a commonsense strategy for protecting children against preventable outbreaks of contagious diseases.

And yet this primarily medical term also cuts to the core of the Trump administration’s attitude toward those populations he has named as threats. Indeed, there is perhaps no greater symbol for national prophylaxis than Trump’s promise to “build a great, great wall on our southern border.” A prophylactic barrier is designed to preemptively seal off the body from foreign invaders. While Trump has not succeeded in erecting his wall, his administration has enacted more insidious forms of border security since he took office, from the discriminatory Muslim Ban to the mass detention of asylum seekers and the unconscionable separation of parents from their children at the border. Even as I write this, Trump is making new headlines in his refusal to admit Bahamian climate refugees into the U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Dorian because they contained “some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.” To make America “great again,” in this worldview, is to safeguard the imagined purity of an American “us” against infection and contamination by a supposedly un-American “them.”

Recognizing Trump’s rhetoric as fundamentally prophylactic allows us to more easily see the ableism that motivates his fixation with closed borders. During an interview with NPR last month, Trump’s acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, took it upon himself to rewrite Emma Lazarus’s famous poem, etched onto the Statue of Liberty. Quoting the iconic lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Cuccinelli improvised an extra addendum: “Who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” More than just an ableist metaphor, the requirement that immigrants be able to “stand on their own two feet” and not request assistance sends a clear message: sickness and disability have no place within Trump’s America. To what extent does the nostalgic rallying cry “Make America Great Again” resemble the rehabilitative pressures that demand that certain individuals become able to “walk again”?  More importantly, what would it look like to refuse that demand, requesting care instead of cure and demanding access rather than quarantine? What would a model of anti-prophylactic American citizenship look like?

Vulnerable ConstitutionsAs I was writing Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood, I discovered the answer to this question among an eclectic set of American novels and memoirs, from the canonical voices of William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald to the more explicitly radical writings of James Baldwin and Samuel Delany. Each of these writers rejected the prophylactic impulse to seal off the borders the body (and nation) against infection. In so doing, they rebelled against the medical wisdom of their day. Against doctor’s orders, they imagined a new form of American masculinity that celebrated the virtues of the viral. In their works, I was fascinated by the number of shapes these infectious visions took, from the risky intimacies cultivated among queer barebacking subcultures in response to the AIDS epidemic to the rejection of the sanitizing psychiatric labels and coercive therapies applied to gay men in the 1950s and 60s.

Rather than embracing an ideal of impenetrable masculinity, these writers believed that individual body, as well as the body of the nation, becomes healthier and more robust as it drops its defenses. They help us to envision an alternative form of manhood that dictates that the body remain open, incorporating and adapting to those elements that others identify as ‘threats.’ This alternative masculinity, of course, is not beyond critique. Its glorification of risk and resilience (“what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”) might simply replace one masculine ideal with another. But by celebrating the value and even the pleasures of contamination, it is a masculinity that is “toxic” in the most positive sense of the word.

 

Examining the global migration crisis, human rights, and xenophobia

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather Smith-Cannoy, editor of Emerging Threats to Human Rights, asks, Do things really get better once forced migrants escape dangerous conditions? 

In September of 2015, the tiny body of a 3-year old Syrian refugee washed ashore in Greece. The gut-wrenching image of a small, innocent child trying to escape a brutal civil war with his family, only to drown in route to a better life, was not one that I could shake. Little Aylan Kurdi’s tragic journey struck me especially hard because he was the same age as my son. Until that day my research on human rights had always been about the impact of laws on people in far off places—women in Hungary, civilians in UN protected combat zones, and political prisoners in Central Asia. But the image of his small body, face down on the shore fundamentally changed the way that I think about human rights in a rapidly changing world.

Emerging Threats to Human RIghtsEmerging Threats to Human Rights is my attempt to look beyond the traditional boundaries that defined how I had thought about global human rights.  Rather than studying one group of people, in one particular county, Aylan Kurdi’s story showed me to that to wrestle with emerging threats to human rights in our world, I needed to look across the human experience to understand both the causes of flight and the possibilities for the fulfillment of rights after flight. In other words, do things really get better once forced migrants escape dangerous conditions?

In collaborating with the talented academics, attorneys, and activists that contributed to this volume, we arrived at three interwoven themes that capture a new way of thinking about human rights within a process of migration. When sea levels rise, for example, where will people who call small island nations their home go to seek refuge and what will be the status of their rights what they arrive in that new community? If violence erupts in one’s country of residence and they flee, do they have a chance to improve their lives in their new country? When governments dismantle citizenship rights, effectively stripping people of their legal status, what happens when they try to escape?

Collectively, this anthology examines three causes of migration—resource depletion, violence and deprivation of citizenship, which, to varying degrees compel people to leave their homes in search of safety and a better life. We find that violence generates more refugees than resource depletion and deprivation of citizenship but together these chapters show that escape is only the beginning of the story. When people escape dangerous conditions, their prospects for a full life depend critically on where they land and how they get there. Contributors Money and Western conduct a global macro analysis of rights fulfillment in one chapter. They show that the fate of forced migrants depends on three factors of the host state—governance quality, access to resources, and the availability of citizenship for new migrants.

Contributor Kerstin Fisk shows that when refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia sought asylum in South Africa, they were instead subjected to organized xenophobic violence carried out with the support of the South African government. In the chapter I wrote, I show that as Rohingya refugees are stripped of citizenship by their government in Myanmar, they run for their lives to boats waiting at sea. Traffickers use the opportunity to exploit people desperate to escape genocide. The cover image of the book shows some of those Rohingya refugees who made it out of Myanmar successfully. That image comes from the largest refugee camp in the world, Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.

In the time it took to put this volume together, the global migration crisis has only intensified. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that as of September 2019, there are more than 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, unquestionably the worst migration crisis on record. I hope that Emerging Threats to Human Rights will start a conversation about the human rights and human dignity of the world’s growing migrant population and serve to counteract a rising tide of xenophobia.

Announcing the University Press Fantasy League

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Mulligan, acquisitions editor for Temple University Press’s sports and sociology lists, writes about the University Press Fantasy Football League he began in honor of our forthcoming book on fantasy sports.

In March 2020, Temple University Press will be publishing a book on the sociology of Fantasy Sports, entitled Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports, by Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow. The topic is sociologically interesting because unlike most sports cultures, Fantasy Sports are online games where players should be on relatively equal competitive standing regardless of gender or other embodied inequalities. But, in fact, the authors argue, many male participants in fantasy sports leagues invest their participation with a lot of meaning because it serves them as a place to enact a hegemonic masculinity they feel is denied to them in other aspects of their life, one often bound up with boyhood ideals. This investment leads them to make the online interactive spaces less than welcoming to competitors who do not resemble the identity they are trying to perform. It can also lead them to concentrate on their Fantasy Sports teams at the expense of other priorities in their lives.

Kissane approved_061319My coworkers at Temple are excited about this book, but they are newcomers to the idea of Fantasy Sports. As we launched the forthcoming book into production, we decided one good way to learn about its subject and become better advocates for the project would be to start our own TUP Fantasy Football Team. And as long as we were starting a Press team, we thought it might be fun to compete against our fellow university presses, in a University Press Fantasy League, or UPFL if you will. Hopefully, it would prove a more fun and welcoming environment than some of those described in the forthcoming book and allow us to build some friendly ties with our fellow university presses.

Fantasy Football is an online game in which teams score points each week based on the achievements of real-life players in NFL games throughout the season. Each team maintains a roster of players by drafting, trading, and starting virtual analogs of real players, who earn points each week based on the performance of the real player. In our league, each participating press will maintain one team throughout the season and go up against a different press each week.

FantasyLast week, 13 teams representing our colleagues at different university presses joined Temple University Press in our UPFL. My colleague Ann-Marie Anderson and I crafted an invitation that we sent out to the Association of University Presses e-mail listserv. I was, frankly, taken aback by how much interest there was immediately, with many responses coming in within minutes with the general gist of, “I don’t know how I’m going to work this out with my colleagues but yes, I want to be a part of this.” I had not been sure that there would be enough interested presses for a respectable eight-team league, but we ended up with a fourteen-team league and had to turn people away. Reading Whose Game?, though, I should have expected the interest: many people find fantasy sports a particularly accessible way to compete and connect with others in a sporting culture, even if they may not be athletic themselves. In fact, many nerdy men in particular, turn to fantasy sports as a way of investing their nerdier instincts with associations with hegemonic masculinity from not only sporting cultures, but also from the performance of analytic decisiveness and managerial power. Knowing this, I was glad to see that the fantasy players we’d recruited included a number of female managers.

Screenshot 2019-09-04 17.03.39In my opinion, all participants acquitted themselves well at the League’s draft on Wednesday September 4, on the eve of the NFL season opener, with the arguable exception of Yahoo’s draft servers, which were slow, a feature that consequently stifled in-draft conversation between teams. My colleague Ashley, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, was pleased to see Temple select Steelers running back James Conner with the Press’s first round pick, the ninth of the draft. She was disappointed to see Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster go to Trinity University Press’s team, so she suggested we offer a copy of Temple University Press’s book, The Steelers Encyclopedia, in exchange for Smith-Schuster. After several attempts thwarted by the aforementioned busy Yahoo servers, I threw the offer into the in-draft chat window. Daniel Griffin of Duke University Press astutely pointed out that the fairness of this offer would have been easier to evaluate if I’d included the specifics of the Encyclopedia’s binding and illustration program. At the end of the draft, Temple’s team looked respectable, if skewed somewhat towards players with connections to the Philadelphia Eagles, including Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Nick Foles (the last of whom was unfortunately injured in the season’s first week of action). Colleagues crowded around the computer to see what this game looked like and how players think about it, which will hopefully help as we pitch the book to its audience. I’d like to thank all the fantasy players and presses who are participating, listed below, as well as the players we had to turn away when the league filled up for their interest.

Wishing all a happy season, in publishing and in fantasy.

Participants:

Columbia University Press

Duke University Press

Longleaf Services/UNC Press

LSU Press

Purdue University Press

Temple University Press

Texas Review Press

Trinity University Press

University of Illinois Press

University of New Mexico Press

University of South Carolina Press

University Press of Colorado

UP of Mississippi

Wayne State University Press


Update on our team–1st week’s results: 
Temple University Press won our matchup this past weekend against Duke University Press by a score of 112.14 to 91.76. (Scores in fantasy football with a lineup of this size and standard scoring are typically around 100 points.) Our team saw excellent performances from Indiana running back Marlon Mack (25.4 points) and Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker (17.5 points) and was further aided by our move to take advantage of the Jets matchup against the Bills and start the Jets defense for a week. You may have heard that the Eagles’ wide receiver Desean Jackson also had an excellent week (27.4 fantasy points) but unfortunately I left him on the bench this week, so those points did not contribute to our total. Depending on how he and our other wide receivers do next week, I’ll have to consider moving him into our starting lineup on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, former Eagle and current Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles, who we’ve rostered as a backup quarterback, broke his collarbone on Sunday. So I’ve gone ahead and replaced him with the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. I also added San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert, who has an opportunity since San Francisco’s starting running back was hurt last week. He gets the Jets’ roster spot and we’ll go back to our default defense of Houston this week, facing the Foles-less Jaguars.
This week we face off against J Bruce Fuller, managing editor of Texas Review Press. Yahoo projects a close game.

Highlighting the groundbreaking roles played by Anna May Wong

This week in North Philly Notes, Shirley Jennifer Lim, author of Anna May Wong, explains what prompted her to investigate the career of the important twentieth-century performer whose work shaped racial modernity.

I first witnessed the acting grace of the Chinese American actress Anna May Wong in the 1939 movie, King of Chinatown. In the opening scene she puts down her surgical implements and takes off her cap and mask after a successful emergency room operation.  King of Chinatown underscores Wong’s character, Dr. Mary Ling’s, professional competence for immediately after the surgery, the (San Francisco) Bay Area hospital director offers her the position of resident surgeon. In melodious tones tinged with an upper-class British accent, Wong firmly but politely declines the prestigious appointment because she wishes to raise money to bring medical supplies to China to combat the Japanese invasion. Flashing her trademark smile, Wong gracefully strides across the room, Edith Head-designed skirt and blouse highlighting her all-American modern professionalism. Based on a real life Chinese American woman, Dr. Margaret Chung, Wong’s role represents a modern American woman who is proud of her Chinese heritage.

Before I viewed the film, I knew that the scant scholarship’s dominant storyline focused on Wong as a marginal and exploited actress. According to that narrative, she had mostly played “foreign” and/or “negative” stereotypical roles such as prostitutes or dancers, who often died at the end of each film. Startled at how King of Chinatown proved that viewpoint wildly inaccurate, I decided that Wong’s career merited further investigation.

Anna May Wong_smIn my book, Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, I focus on Wong because she embodied the dominant image of Chinese and “oriental” women between 1922 and 1940. She played groundbreaking roles in American, European, and Australian theater and cinema to become one of the major global actresses of Asian descent between the world wars. Born near Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1905, Wong made more than sixty films that circulated around the world, headlined theater and vaudeville productions in locations ranging from Sydney to Paris to New York, and, in 1951, had her own television series, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, produced by the now defunct DuMont Television Network. The sheer number of films, theatrical productions, magazine covers, and iconic photographs rendered Wong ubiquitous. Global cultural and political interest in the “Orient” propelled her fame in locales such as Germany and Mozambique. Although she is no longer a household name, I argue that Wong remains an important twentieth-century performer because her work shaped racial modernity.

As an Asian American, there was nothing authentically “oriental” about the very American Wong, who, until 1936, had never been to China. Yet decades before the civil rights–generated category of Asian American existed, Wong grappled with how to be an Asian American actress.

Throughout her career, Wong demonstrated an astounding ability to survive as a performer through adapting to technological and format changes. She started in black and white silent films, then pioneered silent two-tone technicolor cinema, then thrived in the “talkies” or sound motion pictures. When film work dried up, she successfully sought opportunities in radio, vaudeville, theater, and photography. Then, in the 1950s, she mastered live television. I have no doubt that if she were alive today, she would be an Instagram or Youtube star, sharing makeup and beauty tips with the world.

I situate this work as part of the feminist recuperation of women’s experiences, and, moreover, racial minority women’s responses to gender being unmarked as white. As decades of scholarship have established, this is not compensatory work but analysis that transforms how we conceptualize history. Body politics still have ramifications for people’s lives. What is at stake in this examination of Wong’s career is the very writing of history: who can speak, who can be a subject, and how it can be done. In doing this work, I wish to validate creative and risk-taking scholarly inquiry. Wong’s cultural creations point to an earlier historical moment of possibility. It shows us how she performed the modern despite facing extraordinary racial and gendered obstacles.

Vice as a tourist attraction?

This week in North Philly Notes, Andrew Israel Ross, author of Public City/Public Sex, writes about the “problem” of public sex in cities. 

I recently visited Amsterdam for the first time and I could not help but be struck by how successfully the city marketed what once would have simply been considered “vice” as a tourist attraction. After making their pilgrimage to the Anne Frank House, for example, tourists can take advantage of the walking tours of the Red Light District. Meandering along the streets of the Dutch city, gawking through windows at nearly-naked women hawking sexual services, women, men, and children can tell themselves that they participated in a venal economy even if they did not actually purchase anything from the women. Indeed, the success of the Red Light District as tourist district has outstripped the imaginations of those who legalized it. The Dutch government has considered limiting how many people could enter the area and permitting sex workers to work elsewhere in the city. The legalization of sex work may or may not have actually made it safer for those engaged in the profession, but it definitely made it into an apparently appropriate experience to the millions of international tourists who flock every year to the Dutch capital. Inscribed in the city, but also cordoned off into its own zone, female sex work becomes a carefully curated experience of the urban center.

Public City Public SexTwenty-first century Amsterdam represents the height of trends I explore in my book Public City/Public Sex: Prostitution, Homosexuality, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. The book traces the relationship between those who participated in and sought out a culture of public sex and those who sought to regulate, understand, and control that culture in Paris over the course of the nineteenth century. In doing so, the book shows some of the ways that public sex was more central to the nineteenth-century city than to the twenty-first. Public sex —primarily evidence of female prostitution and men seeking sex with other men — was not “marginal” to the life of the city. Rather, it was central. Indeed, I show how nineteenth-century urban culture relied upon a culture of public sex that could not be evaded. It was only with the rise of modern consumer culture in the latter decades of the century that public sex came to be a “safe” attraction for Parisians and tourists, sold by male entrepreneurs to a willing audience of middle-class men and women.

During the nineteenth century, state administrators, expert moralists, and private entrepreneurs collaborated in an effort to transform Paris in ways that would open the supposedly “medieval” city to control by the police, to business by capitalists, and to movement by residents. Coupled with new systems of regulation, urban development enabled greater surveillance of the city by the police, but it also offered opportunities for social practices the authorities had intended to prevent in the first place. In an effort to remove sex workers from the streets, the Prefecture of Police “tolerated” brothels that could and would be recognized by anyone passing one by. In an effort to clean the city’s filth, public hygienists advocated for the provision of public urinals that could and would be appropriated by men who sought sex with other men. The creation of new boulevards, parks, and commercial spaces such as cafés and dancehalls where people interacted and encountered one another all enabled public sexual interaction that could be viewed by anyone at any time. The existence and availability of public sexual activity became a key feature of the nineteenth-century city, as administrators, businessmen, prostitutes, men seeking sex with other men, and other Parisians all competed to define urban space in their own terms. The urban culture of the nineteenth century emerged through these tensions.

By arguing that the origins of “modern” urban culture rested on forms of public sexual activity recognized and recognizable by anyone and everyone, Public City/Public Sex historicizes efforts to manage the experience of urban environments, both those explicitly sexualized like the Red Light District and those meant to be asexual. Understanding our own responses to the sexualization of space depends on acknowledging the thin line between the two. Public City/Public Sex historicizes the experience of public sexual encounter by showing how female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men in deployed city space to locate sexual partners and assert their right to the city. The emergence of the Red Light District as a solution to the “problem” of public sex, therefore, was as much as way of taking power away from sex workers as it was an attempt to ensure their safety in the modern city and can only be fully understood as a direct response to the more fluid sexual culture of the nineteenth century.

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