Call for Panelist/Commentator for AHA 2021 Panel on the Role of Race and Gender at Historic Sites

Nichelle Frank's picture



We are seeking one to two panelists as well as a chair/commentator for a 2021 AHA panel examining the ways in which local identities and local histories create and reformulate each other over time. Race and gender will be key to this discussion, since sites of local history process new  understandings of race and gender and communicate them to the public.


How do sites of historical memory reflect local transformations? How do refusals to adapt these spaces to contemporary needs lead to tensions and disruptions in the very community they were built to represent? Have some communities found successful ways to begin incorporating new understandings of race and gender into the information they present to the larger public as “history”?


We would welcome papers exploring any dimension of how residents commemorate their past in any chronological period and with an eye toward social, cultural, and environmental concerns. While our papers currently focus on locations in the North American West, we would welcome papers exploring the construction of historical narratives in any geographic context, including outside North America.


If you are interested in participating as either a presenter or chair/commentator, please email Nichelle Frank at or Annie Reiva at


The deadline for panel proposals is February 15th. If you’re interested, please reach out as soon as possible.


We currently have two papers for this panel:


Nichelle Frank (Doctoral Candidate, University of Oregon) examines the social and environmental factors behind instances when residents of U.S. West mining towns have chosen to include or exclude redlight districts in narratives about their communities. Progressive Era reformers attempted to eradicate these highly visible features from the townscapes, arguing that it was a danger to both moral and physical health, but they failed. Redlight districts in Butte and other towns of the U.S. West remained part of the physical and social fabric of the cities until at least the mid-twentieth century and most have only just begun to become historic preservation projects. Since these districts were home to a largely female and often racially diverse population, they offer the opportunity to understand racial and gender dynamics from a new angle in towns that tended to emphasize masculinity and privileged whiteness within labor hierarchies. Analyzing the men and women who lived in and visited redlight district reveals that even though these spaces existed on the social margins, they were spatially centralized and managed to survive during and for a period after the boom era. Even so, they only appear in select narratives about mining towns. This paper explores how the physical and social silencing of continuously present historical sites, such as redlight districts, has led to celebratory historical narratives that succeeded in promoting cleaner and safer environments but ones that failed to confront the lived experiences of marginalized populations.


Annie Reiva (Doctoral Candidate, University of Oregon) turns to Walla Walla, Washington in her investigation of recent rejections of the town’s association with Narcissa Whitman, an ill-fated missionary killed along with her husband and several others by a small group of Cayuse men in 1847. Since her death, several local landmarks including a local university and National Historic Site have been dedicated to their memory, in addition to several portraits, novels, and plays created in Narcissa’s name and image. But recent acts of protest and vandalism indicate an important reevaluation of Walla Walla’s relationship to its colonial past. This presentation will highlight not only the important shifts in this relationship, but also the ways in which communities might use the lasting markers of their settler colonial roots as a starting point for more critical understandings of the past.


Thank you!