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NDSU faculty, alumna edit book on historical sex work

Photo of book cover

Book cover

Photo of Kristen Fellows

Kristen Fellows

Photo of  Angela Smith

Angela Smith

Kristen Fellows, assistant professor of anthropology; Angela Smith, associate professor of history and public history director; and NDSU alumna Anna Munns have co-edited “Historical Sex Work: New Contributions from History and Archaeology,” an examination of the sex trade in America from 1850 to 1920. The 306-page work is published by University Press of Florida.

The book is a collection of essays that focus on lesser-known cities and people who often are excluded from history books. Included are three chapters about Melvina Massey, an African-American madam who owned a brothel in Fargo from 1891 to 1911.

“Moving forward from a strong foundation built by previous historians and archaeologists, this volume represents innovative approaches to how we study historical sex work and the construction of gendered identities in the past,” Fellows said. “The scholars included in this volume analyze a variety of primary sources including documents, artifacts, maps, movies, landscapes, and more. What I’m most excited about is the fact that this feels like a cohesive volume while including chapters from both historians and archaeologists. Our hope is that these chapters will contribute to broader, interdisciplinary discussions about the past and help to expand the types of questions asked and the methods used by scholars in both fields.”

The essays take a close look at rarely-investigated topics such as race and the children of prostitutes.

“The seeds for this book project were sown in my 2013 Museum Studies class at NDSU when my students discovered documents that revealed an interesting picture of Fargo and its red-light district in the late 19th century,” Smith said. “A distinct finding was that a particular brothel operated somewhat openly, and the madam of the establishment was Black. Both were uncharacteristic in a non-urban Midwestern setting. Kristen Fellows and I began a research collaboration the following year. In early 2015, we began to reach out to other scholars researching historic sex work in both the history and archeology fields. The result of this quest led us to this volume.”

Fellows and Smith co-wrote the book’s introduction and conclusion. Munns, MA ’17, anthropology, is the director of assessment at the University of Jamestown and co-wrote with Smith the literature review and contributed a chapter.

Other contributors include Ashley Baggett, NDSU associate professor of history; Carol A. Bentley, NDSU graduate teaching assistant; Alexander D. Keim, archaeologist for the Maryland State Highway Administration; AnneMarie Kooistra, associate professor of history at Bethel University; Jade Luiz, archeology doctoral student at Boston University; Jennifer A. Lupu, archeological technician at the University of Chicago; Penny A. Petersen, researcher for a historical consulting company in Minneapolis; and Mark S. Warner, historical archeologist at the University of Idaho.

Fellows came to NDSU in 2014. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and her doctorate in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Smith joined the NDSU faculty in 2012. She earned her doctorate at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, and is the author of “Here I Stand: The Life and Legacy of John Beecher.”

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