Leslie Paris

Associate Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Mystical science in a matriarchal world: Oregon's lesbian separatist communities and female nature, 1970-1990 (2019)

In the mid-1970s, lesbian women across the United States sought solace from patriarchy and ecological destruction by abandoning cities and moving to secluded rural areas. These spaces became lesbian separatist communities, or communities in which no men were allowed. Sometimes called lesbian landers, the women who made up these communities formed part of the larger women’s land movement of the same period. Southern Oregon housed several women’s lands. Although the women’s land movement perpetuated racist, colonialist, and essentialist ideas, it was particularly significant in shaping how one segment of countercultural women understood the intersections between gender and nature. This thesis examines the ways in which southern Oregon’s lesbian separatists rejected what they saw as mechanized, masculine science and blamed it for the world’s social and environmental problems. Lesbian landers understood nature as female; they saw “her” as a caring, nurturing mother and same-sex lover. They connected to “her” both spiritually and sexually. As women, landers sought to heal from patriarchal destruction alongside “her” by living on and loving the land. I argue that in doing so, lesbian landers forged new ways of knowing that combined the biological with the magical, the physical with the metaphysical. I call this way of knowing mystical science, and I argue that this ontological perspective enabled landers to radically reimagine solutions to social and environmental problems. Lesbian separatist communities provide a useful space for historians of science to explore how tensions between scientific and social values affect the intellectual and spiritual creation of alternative cosmologies.

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"A note of bitterness in his voice": youth gangs, self-expression, and conversations about interracial tension in postwar New York City, 1945-65 (2017)

This thesis challenges the popular idea of 1950s New York City as a liberal desegregated city characterized by racial tolerance by looking closely at the issues of juvenile delinquency and neighbourhood-based youth gangs. Using a wide variety of archival research—including but not limited to newspaper and magazine articles, oral histories, recorded audio, photographs, and databases—it argues that groups of working class teenagers organized themselves into ethnically-divided gangs in response to postwar demographic transitions that saw a large influx of black and Hispanic migrants to historically white areas. It views anti-social gang activity, especially “rumbles” or fights, as modes of conversation that racialized gang members engaged in with fellow teenagers and the public about their experiences and frustrations trying to access the city’s theoretically desegregated recreational amenities. Using two case studies drawn from highly-publicized incidents in the 1950s, this thesis demonstrates that some youth gang members vocally pushed back against municipal and media authorities’ colourblind go-to discourse of “hoodlumism” to explain the juvenile delinquency problem facing postwar New Yorkers— revealing a city riddled with interracial tension after all.

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It's hip to unzip: open land communes and their neighbours in northern California, 1966-1979 (2017)

This essay considers the histories of two countercultural, back-to-the-land communes located in northern California: Siskiyou County’s Black Bear Ranch and Sonoma County’s Morning Star Ranch. Both of these communes were highly influenced by the concept of Open Land, according to which anyone may freely live in a given space, particularly those individuals rejected or alienated by urban modernity. I examine the ways in which these communes related to and were shaped by their rural neighbours, as well as the local state, asserting the importance of the surrounding community in effecting events at each commune. I argue that positive relations with neighbours determined the continued viability of these communes, and that these positive relations in turn required a compromise of original founding principles including Open Land. I further uncover the changing perceptions rural people held of hippie communards, and contextualize the back-to-the-land ideal within broader American traditions of frontier settlement and reinvention.

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