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Author  Historian  Speaker

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Elyssa Ford is a social and cultural historian interested in gender, sexuality, and the American West. Her work centers on questions of identity and memory. Elyssa's first book Rodeo as Refuge, Rodeo as Rebellion (University Press of Kansas, 2020) looks at race- and group-specific rodeos in the United States, including Black, Indigenous, Hawaiian, and gay rodeo circuits. Rodeo’s ties to the past allow people to connect to it in a way that is deeply personal and to see it as culturally and historically relevant. Because of this, race- and group-specific rodeos not only have continued far beyond the time of segregation, but have become even more relevant for the communities that support them.

In Slapping Leather: Queer Cowfolx at the Gay Rodeo (University of Washington Press, 2023) Elyssa and her co-author Rebecca Scofield at the University of Idaho examine the gay rodeo circuit, a site where participants created a different queer sexual subculture that straddled the urban and rural. They reveal the tensions that formed between offering an inclusive environment (for men and women, for trans and cis competitors, and more) and one that was created by gay men for gay men. Chapter topics include hypermasculinity, sex and AIDS, drag queens and camp events, political and consumer power, and the position of women and people of color within this setting.

As a public historian, Elyssa promotes using local history as a teaching tool for facilitating student engagement and has published on profession-based learning project design with a focus on undergraduate students working collaboratively on projects with community partners. Since 2012 she has led the Nodaway County Digital History Project, which is home to virtual exhibits, lesson plans, and oral histories created by community members, volunteers, and undergraduate students at Northwest Missouri State University. Learn more about this project and her other public history work here.

Working with students at the NCHS museum.

"Because public history meets people where they are and affects how they make sense of their lives, it is a field complicated by public memory, emotional investments, and competing group aims. All of this makes the work thrilling and satisfying, but also vexing, time-intensive, and difficult."

Tiya Miles

Images from Northwest Missouri State University, University of Washington Press, University Press of Kansas, and the Missouri Historical Review. 

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