Professor to speak on gossip in American history

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Erica Ball, Ph.D., professor of American studies, will present as part of “Can We Talk? Gossip in American History and Life,” a panel on gossip in history and politics. (Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

Gossip can be silly, serious or it can be used as a powerful political tool. In a forum at the University of Redlands, a group of professors will be examining and discussing the uses and abuses of gossip through American history Wednesday.

Cal State Fullerton American Studies professor Erica Ball, Ph.D., will be featured in a panel titled “Can We Talk? Gossip in American History and Life.”

The forum will take a look at everything from gossip in politics and the media, to religious and legal cultures spanning from the 17th century to the blogosphere of today. The forum is a microcosm of the themes covered in When Private Talk Goes Public: Gossip in American History, a collection of essays by Ball and University of Redlands professors Kathy Feeley, Ph.D., and Timothy Sieber, Ph.D.

Ball wrote a piece on Gossip and the Antebellum Black Press that will be the topic of her discussion.

“It’s not just entertainment, it’s not just news, but they see it as part of a larger struggle to fight racism and end slavery,” she said.

In the early 19th century, the free black press printed gossip of both a lighthearted and humorous nature alongside political gossip to criticize politicians who were anti-abolitionist and things like warnings of kidnappers and other social dangers of which people may have been unaware.

These newspapers were not written by those who would be considered professional journalists, but by a group of writers who were trained in a host of disciplines who decided they needed a medium for communication within the black community, as well as a forum in which to make their political voice heard, Ball said.

“When private talk goes public, noise gets made, news gets made, history gets made,” said Feeley, associate professor and chair of the history department at the University of Redlands. “And people might just be surprised at the positive and constructive functions gossip can play.”

The forum will take place at the University of Redlands campus at 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit

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