I have found myself living, somewhat unwittingly, in a ramshackle Victorian house in a run-down rustbelt town in northeast Ohio, where I currently keep company with my partner, a dog, two cats, and occasionally wayward bats.
This will not be fodder for home improvement Pinterest porn. We possess neither the means nor the know-how to be earnest fixer-uppers or hard-core home restorers. We can’t bring our house back to its former Victorian glory. More importantly, we do not have the inclination to transform our home into a colonialist reliquary. We are not, for the love of God, these people. (This send-up of their tone-deaf nostalgia is, perhaps, one of my favorite things that has ever been on the internet — the gist of which is that the fantasy of time travel is, as Louis C.K. has observed, exclusively a white privilege.)
So I by no means idolize or romanticize Victorian culture. But as a green and admittedly accidental Ohioan, I am deeply interested in the history and culture of the place where I live. I am an assistant professor at a small liberal arts college and a scholar of early American literature and medicine. I’m fascinated by 19th-century social reform in particular, especially the many strange and strategic ways we have understood, promoted, regulated, and politicized health in the United States. Living here, I am not looking for a route back into the troubled past. I am just trying–in so many ways–to stave off some of the decay.