Hunter S. Jones reports from a weekend of history in New Orleans.
The Beatles went to India for inspiration; the Stones went to New Orleans. And, like the Stones, New Orleans has always given me a spark of creativity. As we landed, I felt the energy of the Crescent City and looked forward to rocking my weekend adventure with the Organization of American Historians (OAH).
New Orleans, with its unique history, is one of the most magical cities in the United States. Settled by the 1700s, its tumultuous past is one of the reasons it was chosen for the gathering of enthusiastic history lovers.
According to Executive Director, Katherine Finley, the OAH was founded in 1907 and is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to American history scholarship. Each spring, thousands of history practitioners meet to network with publishers, and research and teaching resource providers, hosting hundreds of sessions and presentations. With more than 7,500 members from the U.S. and abroad, the OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history.
The theme for this year’s meeting was Circulation. The OAH believes that the concept focused on all aspects of movement in American history, including ideas, goods, and products, information, water, and highways, currency, disease, migrations, culture, and conflicts. Circulation in the U.S. has been documented throughout our history via censuses, travel documents, land transfers, court records, and the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands.
A lot of stuff for a four-day event!
Melissa Daggett’s talk on Spiritualism in 19th Century New Orleans was fascinating, as was the session on Rethinking the Cherokee Removal, which to my surprise, had panel members from the U.K.’s Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Their knowledge of the Cherokee Removal and the diaspora of the indigenous people was riveting.
For me, the most compelling session of all was New Orleans: Portal to Commodified Circulation of Prostitution, due to my current research into the subject of prostitution in the 1800s. The panel consisted of the highly-esteemed Dr. Leslie Fishbein, American Studies Department, Rutgers University; Pamela D. Arceneaux, Historic New Orleans Collection and author of Guidebooks To Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville, New Orleans; Dr. Emily Landau, historian and author of Spectacular Wickedness; and Pultizer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey of Emory University.
As noted in the schedule, the group discussed the following, which is being shared by permission of the panel:
As a port city noted for the French influence on its culture and mores, New Orleans historically has attracted residents and visitors who found its cosmopolitan tolerance for what other cites viewed as compelling and refreshing. One result was the tolerated vice district, Storyville, that existed in New Orleans from 1897-1917, but that experiment in segregated vice was not simply a temporary anomaly in the American approach to regulating prostitution. It also represented a new set of cultural and commercial attitudes as New Orleans created an elaborate set of institutionalized mores to accompany segregated vice that reflected the cosmopolitan complexity of the city’s hybridized culture. This session will address the evolution of that culture from its inception through the reign and demise of Storyville and its aftermath, examining Storyville in fact and legend and addressing the ways in which prostitution circulated within Storyville as a vice district, including its notorious Blue Books printed annually to advertise the district’s sexual wares, its coverage in newspaper accounts, and the photographs of the district and its prostitutes and madams by Ernest J. Bellocq and the ways in which Storyville has been memorialized in poetry, music, art, photography, and film.
The panel’s discussion humanized the women of Storyville, and made me better understand the very human, emotional side of Victorian Era prostitution in the U.S. It is the story of American racial coding and class distinction, and a very Southern story. A tale of survival and making the best of a bad situation, the epitome of Southern history is represented here.
The session was so captivating and compelling, it inspired me to spend part of the afternoon at The Historic New Orleans Collection’s exhibit “Storyville: Madams and Music” at 410 Chartres Street. You can find The Historic New Orleans Collection website at www.hnoc.org.
The exhibit runs until December 2, 2017. If you get a chance, see this! It explains the structure of the District, the business behind the pleasure, and the influence Storyville had on fashion (the first high heels were brought into the United States by way of Storyville, via Paris), as well as the birth of jazz—the first American art form.
The insight gained in one afternoon is invaluable to me, as I am currently working on a historical essay for a collection published by Pen and Sword Books. Lips of Flame and Heart of Stone will reveal many secrets of Victorian Era prostitution. Pen and Sword have given me the creative freedom to choose the writers I believe are best suited for the work. They are a talented group, each one has the penchant to capture the excitement of the past and convey their passion to readers. This collaborative project includes seven authors from the U.S. and U.K.: Annie Whitehead, Emma Haddon-Wright, Jessica Cale, Samantha Wilcoxson, Judith Arnopp, Gayle Hulme, and Dr. Beth Lynne.
I’m delighted to share with you that the title is The British Stripped Bare. It’s an homage to art, my British fanbase, and a nod to the iconic Bryan Ferry and his album The Bride Stripped Bare. The essays center on romance and sexuality from the Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, Tudor, Stuart, Regency, and Victorian Eras. Look for more information about the book very soon.
I look forward to next year’s OAH meeting in Sacramento, California and seeing my new friends again.
And, I also look forward to revealing more information about The British Stripped Bare as we move closer to publication.
Hunter S. Jones is passionate about the history of romance, science, and music, a.k.a. sex, drugs, and rock & roll. She has a popular history blog, and is the author of the best-selling Anne Boleyn story, Phoenix Rising. She is a historian for Past Preservers Casting. When she isn’t writing, talking, or tweeting about kings, queens, and rock stars, she’s living the dream in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish-born husband. To find out more, visit www.historyrocks.us.