On joining the editorial board at the Journal of the History of Sexuality

(warning: here there be nostalgia) 

I’ve just joined the editorial board of the Journal of the History of Sexuality, which prompted this  . . . reverie? is that what you’d call it? I guess:

I remember first discovering the Journal of the History of Sexuality. It was my first year of grad school, and I was browsing the HQ section of the stacks at Charles Young Research Library wistfully. I’d come to UCLA a true babe in the woods in every sense; I’d never lived in a city larger than 50,000 people, and I had no idea how history worked as a scholarly discipline (even my writing sample had been about, um, pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, I think? Oof). What I knew was that I liked Gabriel Kolko’s New Left analysis of railroad regulation, and I wanted to do that; it never occurred to me until I got there that saying “yeah! What he said!” wasn’t really enough to sustain much of a project (plus, Kolko had long been displaced by newer frameworks that were arguably more nuaced, if also perhaps more apologist for the ravages of capitalism).

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some dream of fame, power, or glory; my dreams were of KOLKO

In any case, I was floundering, and when I came across the JHS, it was a breath of fresh air—this was what I wanted to be doing, whatever this was. I spent the next year finding out, reading every issue cover to cover (there were only about ten years of back issues at that point, though it was still a fairly daunting task). My notes from that time—still handwritten, though this actually makes them vastly more accessible than the notes I would come to type on my then-laptop, available now only on discs that no longer fit into my machines—suggest that I was sometimes reading more for narrative than analysis, but gradually I came to recognize the patterns, what sort of questions were being asked and through what methods these were being answered.

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I set out to emulate these articles in my own work. I had only the vaguest of contours for a dissertation—by this point, I’d abandoned the history of Progressive-era railroad regulation for something about postwar battles over porn, though I wasn’t sure exactly what. I was interested in feminist intellectual history, I’d found some fascinating archival material about heteronormative obscenity regulation in Los Angeles, and Lisa McGirr’s recently-published Suburban Warriors was creating a buzz with its examination of the New Right, but I couldn’t see how the pieces fit together.

One name that seemed to keep popping up was Citizens for Decent Literature. Not much had been written about the group, but it was everywhere in the 1960s, especially. So I became obsessed with CDL and its brilliant, mercurial founder Charles Keating, he of the Savings & Loan debacles of the 1980s. I wound up driving around the country chasing its archival traces—research only newly made possible by the digitization of various finding aids that one would probably never think to examine were it not for the wonders of Google, which led me from Utah to Arizona to Ohio to Pennsylvania, since CDL left no central archive.

Eventually, I thought I had enough material to support an argument that CDL had cultivated a new mode of antiporn activism, one that was nominally secular and legalistic, even as it extended more traditional moral politics into the new formations of the so-called New Right. I wrote it up, sent it out, and anxiously waited; after what I think was a revise and resubmit (I still have the letter from editor Matt Kuefler, which I parsed relentlessly for hidden subtexts at the time, somewhere around here), it was accepted, and became my first published article.

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That was a really thrilling moment for me, to join the scholarly conversation that I’d by then been reading for several years. Since then, I’ve continued to read every issue of JHS, as well as serving as a book and manuscript reviewer on a few occasions. I’ve always admired Matt’s editorship—a good deal of the best articles in my own field of modern U.S. appear in the journal, but it also provides a valuable forum for global research that’s too easily marginalized otherwise—in this random stack alone, we get everything from monks in early Byzantium to an entire theme issue on sexuality in imperial China.

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So, JHS was really my entryway into history, and it’s still my favorite journal. It’s a tremendous honor to join the editorial board, and I’m looking forward to working with the journal. I also vow not to try to impose my own agenda on it, meaning there will be no theme issues on cats or Guided by Voices . . . I mean, unless readers demand it, of course.

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