What’s in the March Issue of the Journal of American History?
The March issue of the Journal of American History is now available online and in print. Included are articles by Emmanuelle Perez Tisserant, William Robert Billups, and Lori A. Flores, as well as Hannah Srajer’s Editor’s Choice article, “Imperfect Intercourse: Sexual Disability, Sexual Deviance, and the History of Vaginal Pain in the Twentieth-Century United States.” The pieces explore questions of political culture, sexual disability, labor trauma, collective memory and forgetting, and women’s roles in white supremacist and antigovernment movements. The freely available Textbooks and Teaching section features discussions of teaching U.S. history in “alternative spaces,” including prisons, churches, and abroad. The centerpiece of the section is an interchange organized by Stephen Wilson, a currently incarcerated activist and intellectual, on the politics and distinctive pedagogy of prison teaching.
How does political culture become familiar enough to people that it becomes shared and forms a “national culture”? In her 2022 David Thelen Prize–winning article about Alta California, after independence from Mexico, Emmanuelle Perez Tisserant shows that this process is too complex to frame as top-down diffusion. People in the provinces did not passively wait for innovations to come from the capital or other cultural and political centers. They adopted and adapted actively to the era’s new political situation by utilizing political labels and the possibilities made available to them by overlapping constitutions as tools to reach local goals and as ways to connect their priorities to broader, national, and even international, conversations on the rights of citizens, liberalism, sovereignty, and modernity. Studying this political process in Mexican California shows that the whole history of California before 1848 cannot be understood simply as a prequel to U.S. integration.
In 1968, Mississippi policemen fatally shot Kathy Ainsworth, a Ku Klux Klan bomber and pregnant schoolteacher, during a sting operation. Decades later, a Federal Bureau of Investigation sniper killed Vicki Weaver, an Idaho white supremacist mother, during a standoff. Both women became martyrs, and today transnational white supremacist communities revere them as antigovernment symbols. William Robert Billups tracks Ainsworth and Weaver across far-right collective memory to analyze the development of modern white supremacist ideologies and networks. He argues that discourses about persecuted white mothers helped spawn far-right antistatism. His study provides new insights into women’s roles in white supremacist movements and demonstrates how anxieties about white motherhood and procreation have fueled antigovernment extremism since the civil rights era.
Hannah Srajer’s 2022 Louis Pelzer Award–winning article expands the field of disability history to consider sexual disability, investigating how vaginal pain in the second half of the twentieth century was recast as a mental disorder easily cured by psychoanalysis and later behavioral therapy. A review of both Freudian and behavioral approaches to vaginismus and vaginal pain shows how the American medical community has often conflated sexual disability—particularly genital disability that prevents vaginal penetration—with gender and sexual queerness. Srajer begins a conversation about disabled (hetero)sexuality in the twentieth century and its implications within the institutions of law, medicine, and the medico-legal construction of marriage.
In her article, Lori A. Flores takes an oft-romanticized landscape—the forest—and reveals how residual and current labor traumas within such spaces transform them into amnesic landscapes. She connects and uses two Maine forestry accidents involving Mexican and Central American guest workers in 1998 and 2002 as illustrative of how certain realms of work are not designed to retain memories, but to purge histories of luring, entrapping, injuring, and killing waves of workers over time. This piece argues for four layers to amnesic landscapes: environmental characteristics, influential capitalist forces, willful governmental forgetting, and archival invisibility. The problematic fact that many immigrants only become archivally visible by dying is compounded by the persistent and misguided idea that guest worker programs are panaceas to U.S. labor quandaries.