Alison Kibler Professor of American Studies and Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies
My research focuses on the history of American popular culture, particularly social struggles over representation and reception. The central question running through my research is: How have people of different genders, races and immigrant backgrounds shaped the development of popular culture as creators, critics, activists, and consumers?
Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) examines women’s roles as performers, labor activists, and consumers in the most popular live entertainment industry of the turn of the twentieth century.
My second book, Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1920, explores how Irish, Jewish, and African American groups of the turn of the twentieth century resisted harmful representations in popular culture by lobbying behind the scenes, staging theater riots, and using the law to censor productions. This book shows that debates about “hate speech” are not a new chapter in the culture wars of the late-twentieth century in the United States; instead, they are part of a century-long struggle between equal protection and individual free speech rights (or between equal protection and the first amendment). My article for History News Network in 2015, "The Long History of Hate Speech," offers a summary of the book's core arguments.
My current research project is Liberate the Media: Feminist Television Activism in the 1970s. This project recovers the feminist current affairs programs of this decade, such as Wide World of Women; Your Place and Mine; For You, Black Woman; Everywoman; and In Her Own Right. Largely forgotten today, these television programs were part of a wave of feminist public affairs shows across the United States in the 1970s. Some aired in primetime with major corporate or foundation sponsors, while others struggled in obscure time slots with little support from stations. All had roots in the widespread feminist campaign to transform television. Feminist activists pressured stations to add new programs and hire more women in production and management, demanded that television news expand coverage of the women’s movement, and convinced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revise federal broadcasting policies. Taken together, these challenges were a radical attack on commercial and public television, targeting every aspect of programming--from the evening news to soap operas--and seeking a new structure of broadcasting to give social movements direct access to the airwaves.
I am also working with students on a public history project--Lancaster Vice, a history of the anti-vice campaign in Lancaster, PA in the early twentieth century. Lancaster has long had a reputation as a religiously-conservative area. This reputation, however, masks a much more complicated reality. In the early-twentieth century Lancaster was known as a “wide-open” city with a flourishing commercial sex trade and a vibrant gay male subculture. For more than fifty years, Lancaster’s Law and Order Society, supported by the Lancaster Council of Churches, investigated sexual immorality (including prostitution and obscenity) in this mid-sized, industrial city in central Pennsylvania.
In 2022 the Lancaster Vice team created a walking tour, which is offered through LancasterHistory.org and was featured on Lancaster Online. The 2023 Lancaster Vice team is working on a podcast.
Ph.D. The University of Iowa, American Studies Program, 1994
M.A. The University of Iowa, American Studies Program, 1991
B.A. Brandeis University, American Studies Department, 1987
summa cum laude Phi Beta Kappa
Grants & Awards
Rachel Fuchs Memorial Award for Excellence in Mentorship and Service to Women/LGBTQ in the Profession, Coordinating Council for Women in History, 2020.
Lindback Foundation Teaching Award, Franklin and Marshall College’s highest teaching honor, 2019.
Research Grants and Fellowships
Center for Sustained Engagement with Lancaster Enhanced Sabbatical Award ($25,000), for full-year sabbatical in 2022.
Finalist, Cokie Roberts National Archives Fellowship, 2022.
Franklin Research Grant ($6000), American Philosophical Society (January 2021).
L’Engle Travel to Collection Grant ($1000), Smith College Special Collections (April 2020).
Joan Challinor Research Support Grant, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, September 2018 ($3000).
Rockefeller Fellowship, Center for Ethnicities, Communities and Social Policy, Bryn Mawr College, September 2004-September 2005 ($40,000).
American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, September 2000 - September 2001 ($25,000).
Scholar-in-Residence, Pennsylvania State Archives, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2005 ($1500).
Loewenstein-Wiener Fellowship, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, 2002 ($2500).
Hibernian Research Award, CUSHWA Center for the Study of American Catholicism, 1999 ($2000).
“Black Feminists on Television.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, 44, no. 1 (2023): 80-109.
“Feminists for Media Rights: A Case Study in Television Activism.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 40 (2020): 210-231.
Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish and African American Struggles Over Race and Representation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).
Speaking engagements regarding Censoring Racial Ridicule: Skidmore College (9/15/15), Brandeis University (10/18/15), The Pennsylvania State University (10/28/15), Kansas City Public Library (8/23/16) [televised on CSPAN 3] and Chicago Jewish Historical Society (3/20/16)
Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), cloth and paper.
Co-winner, Emily Toth Prize in Feminism and Popular Culture, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association
“Paddy, Shylock and Sambo: Irish, Jewish and African American Efforts to Ban Racial Ridicule from Stage and Screen” In Cultural Contestation and the Symbolic Landscape: Politics by Other Means? ed. Marc Howard Ross, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
“Pigs, Green Whiskers, and Drunken Widows: Irish Nationalists and the ‘Practical Censorship of McFadden’s Row of Flats in 1902 and 1903.” Journal of American Studies 42.3 (December 2008): 489-514.
“The Stage Irishwoman,” Journal of American Ethnic History 24.3 (Spring 2005): 5-30.
“Do you know your campus speech code?” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 50:2 (2018): 63-66.
Popular Entertainment in Lancaster
Students in my senior seminar in American Studies have produced two collaborative research projects about popular entertainment in Lancaster. The first was an exploration of racial division in the audience and the racial representation on stage a the Fulton Opera House; the second was an examination of the 100-year history of Lancaster's now-defunct amusement park, Rocky Springs. In the 1960s F&M professors and alumni were involved in the legal campaign to desegregate the swimming pool at this park. Recently, I worked with Su Spina and Charisma Lambert to uncover the history of integrated swimming at the city pool in York, Pennsylvania.
with Su Spina, ““Heat, Humidity and Humbug”: The Integration of the Municipal Swimming Pool in York, Pennsylvania, 1947-1954,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History, 144, no. 1 (January 2020): 89-113.
with Shanni Davidowitz, “’Our Color Won’t Wash Off: The Desegregation of Swimming in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” Journal of Civil and Human Rights 2.1 (Summer 2016): 3-33.
I have also started a research project with undergraduates--Lancaster Vice. It focuses on the history of Lancaster's Law & Order Society, which launched an anti-vice campaign in 1914. Clerical leaders, business owners and some F&M professors investigated and tried to reduce commercial sex work, gambling and liquor. The Lancaster Historical Society has a rich collection of the Law & Order Society's papers. In the summer of 2021 the first Lancaster Vice team worked on reading and digitizing investigator reports, tracing anti-vice activity in the newspapers, researching prominent individuals in census records and producing a map of commercial sex work in 1914. The Lancaster Vice team created a walking tour in 2022 and is working on a podcast in the summer of 2023.
This work has been generously supported by the Center for Sustained Engagement with Lancaster and the Hackman Summer Scholars program.