Chad Heap


On his book Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940

Cover Interview of August 04, 2009


One could easily argue that all historical research, writing, and even reading constitute a form of slumming.  Each invites the historically curious individual to venture into unknown territory or to encounter new groups of people in an effort to better understand both the unfamiliar and oneself.

But Slumming is less a meditation on the way that history is written or consumed than an exploration of the pervasive but changing power of race and sexuality in American culture, the inextricability of these two concepts in the popular imagination, and the ability of urban amusements to make such abstract notions seem more stable and “real” by grounding them in particular urban spaces.

Yet even as Slumming endeavors to unravel the cultural dynamics of this voyeuristic, oft-demeaning but always revealing practice, it clearly runs the risk of promoting some version of “armchair slumming” among readers.  No doubt some will find parts of the book titillating and sensationalistic.  But in critically analyzing and historically contextualizing even the most salacious accounts of past social and sexual interactions, I seek to make productive use of the voyeuristic aspects of such research in order to reveal the complex, sometimes exploitative and often erotic processes through which racial and sexual ideologies were constructed more than a century ago and through which they continue to find their power today.  If the result of my endeavors proves as pleasurable and stimulating as it is informative, so much the better.

© 2009 Chad Heap