Katie Hemphill (BA, History & English, 2006; MA, History, 2008) is currently an assistant professor of history at the University of Arizona. Her book, Bawdy City: Commercial Sex and Regulation in Baltimore, 1790-1915, is forthcoming in hardcover in February 2020 from Cambridge University Press. The Kindle version is available now. We checked in with Prof. Hemphill to learn more about her teaching and research.
What is your forthcoming book, Bawdy City, about?
Bawdy City is about prostitution in Baltimore over the course of the long nineteenth century, and more specifically about how Baltimore's sex trade grew and evolved along with the city and its industrial economy. I think the nineteenth century survives in the popular imagination as a period characterized by Victorian prudery, and people fail to realize that a lot of American cities had thriving prostitution trades at that time. By looking at how the practices and geographies of Baltimore's prostitution trade changed over the course of the century, I realized it was possible to learn a lot about how changes in the economy changed sexual practices, how the state's role in regulating illicit economies shifted over time, and how Baltimore's unique racial demography shaped a trade that many urban women relied upon for their livelihoods. My book is about all of those things, although I like to think that it's ultimately a story about how the "public" worlds of economy, law, and politics have never been as separate from the supposedly private worlds of sexuality and intimacy as we sometimes think.
How did your BA from Mason prepare you for graduate school, both at Mason and at your doctoral Alma mater, Johns Hopkins University?
I had fantastic professors at GMU, and the classes I took with them pushed me to develop strong writing and research skills that were crucial to my success in graduate work. Between the capstone seminar and the many upper-division classes that gave me hands-on research experience, I felt like I had a really solid foundation for transitioning to programs where I was expected to produce original scholarship.
A lot of Mason history majors, and especially prospective history majors, wonder, "What can I do with a History degree?" Your students at UofA must wonder this too. What do you tell them?
I tell my students that they can do whatever they want with a history degree. Some majors provide students with a pathway to one specific profession, which history does not necessarily do. That can feel scary to students. In truth, though, history provides students with transferable tools they can use to access all sorts of different careers, namely strong writing, research, and communications skills. Knowing a lot about the Battle of Gettysburg probably won't impress a potential employer, but you know what will? Being someone who is excellent at finding information, at observing and understanding trends over time, and at communicating complex ideas in ways that are organized and easy to understand. I spend a lot of time encouraging students to focus on the skills that they learn in their studies so that they can articulate to employers how they can be an asset even when the task at hand has nothing to do with history.
You've spent a lot of time learning and working on three different college campuses. What's different and/or special about Mason?
I was always really impressed by how much Mason felt like a small school even though it's actually massive! I never felt like I got lost in the crowd with the faculty, especially within the Department of History & Art History. I had mostly small class sizes, and my professors really went above and beyond when it came to mentoring me and making me aware of opportunities for professional development. To me, that's something really special about GMU.
February 11, 2020