Call for Roundtable Presenters for The 2021 Meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory Durham, North Carolina

Jasmine Norma  Watson 's picture

The 2021 Meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory Durham, North Carolina

Nov 10th-14th 2021 

For the last 50 years, there has been substantial historical research on gender and sexuality, particularly on sex work and sex workers in the Americas and Caribbean. This research has illuminated the challenges of studying intimate interactions of those in the past, particularly those selling or exchanging sex for financial, social, or political gain. Contemporary movements to highlight sex worker abuse and exploitation have caused academics, activists, and policymakers to consider the ethical responsibilities of researching, writing, and creating policies to limit or expand protections for sex workers and sex work. And feminist researchers have reapproached the "sex work" question to consider sex work as a way for sexual and economic liberation. At the upcoming American Society for Ethnohistory held in Durham, North Carolina, this fall. Myself (Alexandria Herrera) and my colleague, Norma Watson, are proposing a roundtable discussing feminist approaches to historical research on sex work and sex workers. We are practically interested in exploring and discussing archival challenges, limitations, and advantages for historical research on sex work and sex workers.

This roundtable aims to bring together researchers, students, and others interested in discussing archival approaches to studying and historical writing about sex work and sex workers. We envision a multi-generational panel, with participants including a wide range of professional and academic backgrounds, including graduate students, junior and senior faculty, or designated entry-level, junior, and senior job titles from outside the academy. To encourage transnational and transregional connections and research, we encourage proposals from scholars, researchers, and activists with regional specialties in Latin America, the United States, and the Caribbean islands from any time period. The organizers' research areas are in 19th and 20th Century Latin American History.

To ground our discussion, for the first part of the roundtable, we will have panelists present an archival document(s) that relate to the posed questions below about archival limitations of historical research on sex work and sex workers. After the panelists discuss their documents, we will have a more organic conversation.

Some of the topics may include, but are not limited to:

  •   What is archival justice? What does archival justice look like for historical discussions of sex work?


  • What role does love and intimacy play in writing history and archival research about sex work?


  •  Sex worker financial, social, and physical mobility within cities, countries, and social groups and how to historically contextualize these cases to make wider claims about gender and sexuality in a given location and period.


  • Women's agency in historical sex work? What are the limitations of women's "agency" when discussing sex work in history?


  •    Historically grounded discussions of sex work as labor and sexual liberation.


  •   How to ethically research and discuss sex work in historical research and educational settings outside and inside the academy


  •  How to ethically research and write about physical, economic, and medical cases of violence and abuse against sex workers.


  •  How can and should researchers use their research to impact contemporary discussions about sex worker labor rights? 


  •    How do researchers draw connections between these past histories and contemporary movements of reclamation? 


  • The role of capitalism, neoliberalism, and other systematic forces in altering how sex work is understood. 


Interested participants should email the organizers, Alexandria Herrera ( AND Norma Watson (, with their name, professional title, a brief presentation proposal, and description of the primary source for presentation by August 25th. Please feel free to contact the organizers with any questions.