September 17, 2014

What the Torch-Wielding Villagers Knew: How the Specter of the Ignorant Provincial Mob Shaped Our Understanding of Gender and Sexual Differences
Time: 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Location: Morgan 109
Description: Self-described moderns have long characterized provincial life as backward, brutish and fundamentally reactionary. They have also tended to thematize provincialism in terms of ignorance and fear. Hence Marx’s oft-quoted assertion that, in drawing wage laborers to cities and forcing them to work alongside one another, the bourgeoisie of nineteenth century Europe had effectively “rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy [or idiom] of rural life.” Hence too the now famous image of a torch and pitchfork wielding mob pursuing Victor Frankenstein’s monster at the end of James Whale’s 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s decidedly nineteenth century novel. This paper considers how the specter of the ignorant provincial mob has shaped our understanding of the history of gender and sexual difference in the United States, especially our understanding of LGBT life. Although it acknowledges that there is indeed a long history of homophobia and transphobia in the American provinces, the paper also insists that rural and small-town communities work differently as social systems than cities and suburbs, particularly today when rural and small-town living is itself a minoritizing experience of sorts. As such, the paper calls for a more nuanced understanding of homophobia and transphobia in non-metropolitan contexts—one that simultaneously accounts for the historical persistence of such sentiments in rural areas and small towns even as it refuses to naturalize them.

Colin R. Johnson is Associate Professor of Gender Studies and Adjunct Associate Professor of American Studies, History and Human Biology at Indiana University Bloomington, where he teaches courses on feminist theory, queer theory, LGBT studies, and the history of gender and sexuality in the United States. A two-time winner of Indiana University’s Trustees’ Award for Teaching Excellence, Johnson is the author of Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013), which was named a finalist for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. He also is co-editor with Mary L. Gray and Brian Gilley of major new edited collection entitled Queering the Countryside: New Directions in Rural Queer Studies, due out from New York University Press in the early 2015. Johnson has held fellowships at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the Johns Hopkins University’s Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, the University of Helsinki’s Ruralia Institute, and in 2015 he will be Visiting Scholar in Residence at the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at McGill University in Montreal. Since 2011, he has been a member of the governing board of the Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History, an affiliate organization of the American Historical Association, and the oldest professional association for scholars of LGBT history in the United States. Johnson holds an AB in Law, Letters and Society from the University of Chicago, and an MA and PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan. No less important in this context, he is also a proud alumnus of Macomb Senior High School.
Contact Information:
 Craig Tollini
 Phone: 298-1265
 Email: cd-tollini@wiu.edu
Source: College of Arts & Sciences

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