Calling the Law Into Question: Confronting the Illegal and Illicit in Public Arenas
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This issue highlights activists, artists, and public historians who have confronted and called into question the illegal and illicit in public arenas. It focuses on the contentious role that these concepts have played in governing public space, legitimizing state actions, and in shaping cultural attitudes regarding acceptable social conduct.
Whitney Strub interprets soft-porn films from the late-1960s as illegal gay activism, which captured homosexual desire as integral to the Los Angeles landscape. Kirsten A. Weld leads us into recently recovered Guatemalan police archives and explores the tenacity of archivists who seek to “dignify the guerrillero, not the assassin.”
Lisa Blee reflects on the post-9/11 legal subjectivity of the “enemy combatant,” and the 2004 retrial and exoneration of Nisqually Chief Leschi, whom the state of Washington executed in 1857.
Claire Bond Potter examines Women Against Pornography’s efforts to reclaim Times Square as a safe space in the 1980s. Rebecca M. Schreiber examines undocumented immigrants’ painful court testimony as transformed into political works of public art. Joey Plaster introduces homeless GLBT youth activists who appealed to the past to challenge San Francisco’s “sit/lie” ordinance.
Stefano Bloch explores a gentrifying neighborhood’s relationship with illegal murals, and their preservation as a form of “edgy” cultural capital.
Essays by Alejandra Bronfman, Lila Caimari, and Robert M. Buffington, organized into a forum by Amy Chazkel, examine how police museums in Cuba, Argentina, and Mexico naturalize law enforcement as an essential social function.
Seth C. Bruggeman investigates how Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison and popular historic site, evades the topic of racialized mass incarceration. Jill Austin, Jennifer Brier, Jessica Herczeg-Konecny, and Anne Parsons address the successes and limitations of a history museum’s attempt to redefine the sexually illicit.
Teaching Radical History
Jennifer Tyburczy challenges students to embrace that “all museums are sex museums.” Rebecca Amato and Jeffrey T. Manuel map how to reinvent urban crime tours to emphasize legal histories of dispossession and marginalization.
Karin Shapiro and Dan Letwin pay tribute to labor historian, scholar-activist, and teacher David Montgomery (1927-2011).