The Literary Hill: Three Reads for Local History Buffs

Elizabeth Rule

Indigenous DC: Native People’s and the Nation’s Capital,
by Elizabeth Rule

Forthcoming 2023. Dr. Elizabeth Rule begins her extensively researched and fascinating mapping of the indigenous history of DC with an important recognition: Today, DC and surrounding states are home to seven federally recognized Indigenous nations: the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond Indian Nation, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. As Indigenous DC makes clear, urban spaces are rich sites of Indigenous history and the District is Indian land.

Readers of this book will find a collection of stories and historical facts about Indigenous tribal leaders and politicians, artists and activists who have contributed extensively to the rich culture and traditions of DC neighborhoods, organizations, and civic sphere. Rule also treats memorials, monuments, and museums of significance to the region’s Indigenous peoples and the tradition of their political action, arts, and cultural celebrations.

Rule is also the author of the “Guide to Indigenous DC” an app that can be downloaded onto your cell phone (at no cost). The mobile app guides users on a walking tour of DC, highlighting tribal historic preservation efforts and other landmarks, to honor the presence of Indigenous peoples in a shared national history and raise awareness about their contributions in the Nation’s Capital. Rule has worked on similar projects in Maryland and Baltimore.

Elizabeth Rule is an Assistant Professor at American University, who studies and teaches Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies. She is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

More on Elizabeth Rule at:

To download the Indigenous DC mobile app:

Secret City DC: The Hidden History of Gay Washington,
by Jamie Kirchick

Exhaustively researched and engagingly written, Kirchick’s Hidden History underlines a popular refrain at Pride Parades and other LGBTQ gatherings: “We’re here. We’re queer. And, we’re not going anywhere.”

Jamie Kirchick

Drawing from declassified materials, presidential libraries and other national archives, and Rainbow History Project oral history interviews, Kirchick explores how gay people could be “everywhere and nowhere” throughout US history. As Kirchick writes in his introduction, “fear of homosexuality, or even the mere accusation of it, destroyed careers, ended lives, and induced otherwise decent people to betray colleagues and friends.”  Exposing the intolerance and persecution that kept many closet doors firmly closed, Kirchick’s history shows the political cast of characters and knotwork of laws, policies, and discourses that cast queerness as a threat to the very fabric of everyday morality in the US.

History buffs will appreciate the range and color of the political characters Kirchick treats. From Edgar J. Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to Roy Cohn, Chief Counsel, Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, to Ronald Reagan accused of involvement in a “homosexual ring” on the campaign trail, to Sumner Welles, the tragic diplomat and political author outed during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, to liberal gay activist and friend of Bill Clinton, David Mixner, readers will find tales of conspiracy-driven gossip campaigns, witch hunts, campaign spin, and vicious political theater, as well as accounts of WWII spies, McCarthy’s suturing of gayness to communism, to the sympathetic solidarity between embers of the Civil and Gay Rights movements, to excesses of the 70’s, the spread of HIV, and persistent allegations of secret, salacious, and immoral behavior in order to score political points.

Secret History details the lengthy history that informs current and ongoing attempts to erase, closet, and control same sex sexual attraction. As it does so, Kirchick’s Secret History exposes an even more important truth—Gay history has always been and always will be US History.

More at James Kirchick’s website:

Robert S. Pohl

Wicked Capitol Hill: An Unruly History of Behaving Badly,
by Robert S. Pohl

Deliciously titillating, unsavory, raunchy, sensational, outrageous—just a few descriptions of the understories collected in this new release.  Fans of Walking Shtick tour guide and DC historian Robert S. Pohl’s previous works (check out Urban Legends and Historic Lore of Washington DC and 101 Hours in a Zeppelin, if you have not already) will find themselves deliciously devouring the pages of his new book exposing the seedy historical underbellies of Capitol Hill and SE neighborhoods. Explore the raucous docks and taverns of the early Navy Yard, prowl the gritty bars of 8th street in earlier eras, and stand at the gravesite of a renowned madam in Historic Congressional Cemetery. From family scandals and the tawdry affairs of political figures, to backroom political shenanigans, local murders and other sensational misdeeds, the tales collected in Wicked Capitol Hill are sure to capture a pleasingly dark public imagination.

For more on historical DC, follow Robert Pohl on:

What are We Reading?

Solid State reports their top five sales as: 1) Spare, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex; 2) Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow: A Novel, Gabrielle Zevin; 3) Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus; 4) How to Sell A Haunted House, Grady Hendrix; and 5) Our Missing Hearts, Celeste Ng.

East City Bookshop reports that their top five sales of the last month have been: 1) Under the Whispering Door, by TJ Klune; 2) The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune; 3) Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin; 4) Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus; and 5) First, Become Ashes, by K.M. Szpara.

I am enjoying Ross Gay’s Book of Delights: Essays, Tricia Hersey’s Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto and R. F. Kuang’s Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution—all marvelous reads. 

Michelle LaFrance is Associate Professor of English at George Mason University. She teaches creative nonfiction, life writing, and civic writing at the Hill Center. In her free time, she can be found reading, writing, and hiking the region’s forests with two mischievous four-leggeds.