Month: March 2019

Interview Follow-Up: Dr. Lisa Eickholdt

Overall, I’m satisfied with the Eickholdt interview, and I feel that it met our expectations in terms of producing a clearer picture of Mallory’s opposition in Gwinnett County. We learned that Dr. Eickholdt was not only a Professor of Education, but a former childhood literacy coach and “reading specialist” working with books like Harry Potter at the elementary level. While she was not working at JC Magill at the time of the case, her occupation remains significant because it suggests that she would have been highly conscious of challenges to children’s literature in her community, and also very familiar with literary censorship in general. Her work as an educator, and more specifically a literacy coach for “aspiring readers,” seemed to give her a different perspective on both the case and the material being challenged, as she repeatedly described censorship as a threat to marginalized groups. The interview also revealed that Dr. Eickholdt was asked by members of her school’s staff to attend the hearing as a professional representative of the Gwinnett County school district: a key detail when considering her role in the hearing, given that she did not approach the hearing entirely on her own accord.

Dr. Eickholdt’s details of the hearing itself were mostly in line with available articles, but she did provide some subtle details which could prove useful. She briefly established that Mallory was not alone in the courtroom, and that she had “people there to support her,” suggesting that Mallory’s support network was perhaps not as strictly digital as we had previously assumed. Dr. Eickholdt also recalled an interesting anecdote about one concerned mother’s account of her child’s “possession” which will likely make for a striking quote or soundbite. Furthermore, Dr. Eickholdt confirmed that the community response to the challenge was somewhat limited. She suggested that the school board may have been attempting to “under-play” the hearing, and made it clear that the hearing “was not big.”

Having reviewed the interview in full, I am able to conclude that we should attempt to improve the audio quality of all interviews if possible, or simply include full transcripts below any embedded footage. We had hoped that Zoom’s default recording software would be sufficient, and while it does capture clear audio, it seems to stutter occasionally. The remaining footage is understandable, but lacks consistent quality. In retrospect, some of our questions may have also appeared extraneous, and several failed to provide any relevant information related to our case, as with our concluding question in this interview regarding the subject’s advice on how to respond to book challenges in one’s community. While it is worth considering how a question like this may lead to a more relevant line of questioning in practice, for our next interview with Gwinnett County educator Dana Kling, we should attempt to limit our use of questions which are only tangentially related to the cases at hand.

Progress Report III – Gwinnett County Cases

While recent deadlines have encouraged Olivia and I to reach some essential project milestones very quickly, at this stage I have noticed some very visible opportunities for improvement that our team should seek to address moving forward. Our site is beginning to take shape, and I am personally pleased with the “landscape” WordPress theme, as I feel that it best represents our intent for the site’s final design. Header images on each page dominate much of the available space in the initial frame before the user attempts to scroll down, as I had hoped, and from what Olivia has already contributed, I expect that the inclusion of large text-based entries will not detract too heavily from the site’s mood or style. I predict that we may run into problems with consistency, given our divided workloads and familiarity with different citation formats, and it may behoove us to compose a brief style-guide to direct our formatting decisions. Our current navigation subtitles seem overly direct, but I feel that this issue will be resolved naturally over the course of our editing, as we determine precisely what content should be confined to its own subcategory, and as we begin to represent our theme more clearly.

Our first interview with Dr. Eickholdt went well after some minor technical problems, and moving forward I do not believe we will run into any trouble with further interviews, nor do I foresee any problems with transcription. I do expect that we may have limited access to other promising interview candidates moving forward, given that I have already contacted Gwinnett County’s legal representative in multiple cases through various channels, and have received no response. Olivia has arranged to interview one of her former K-12 teachers, presumably as an authority on censorship in K-12 schools, and I believe this retreat away from figures directly involved in the case may be the most effective use of our limited time before our self-imposed interview deadline.

Working with TimelineJS has helped us to understand where our wide variety of articles about the case are effective in producing a complete profile of events involving Mallory, and where they fall short. Omission has greatly hindered our understanding of Mallory’s original challenges to Harry Potter at JC Magill Elementary School, though we do know based on Mallory’s own account that her first formal challenge was issued in August of 2005. Acquiring copies of the original challenges, provided they are still available, will contribute greater specificity to this early period in the case study. That said, points like the Gwinnett County School Board Hearing on April 20th, 2006 are already covered in great detail, having been both highly visible and easily accessible to the public, and it may be to our benefit to shift our focus onto more esoteric moments like the 2007 Superior Court hearing.

While I hope to possibly obtain an interview with Gwinnett Superior Judge Ronnie Bachelor, the judge assigned to the aforementioned case, in the meantime, I will focus my energies on site-design.

Report on Interview Preparations – Dr. Lisa Eickholdt

Over the past week, Olivia and I have prepared to interview Dr. Lisa Eickholdt, an Assistant Professor of Literacy Education at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville. While it’s unclear what position she held at the time based on our existing context, Dr. Eickholdt reportedly served as “a witness for the school board” during the Gwinnett County Superior Court hearing, the fourth of Laura Mallory’s successive attempts at challenging the Harry Potter series, and she features prominently in the Loganville Tribune’s interview with Mallory in June of 2007. While we would like to hear from someone with a closer connection to the cases before we exceed our deadline, we are hoping that Dr. Eickholdt will help us better construct a kind of profile of Mallory’s opposition, in the sense that she represented an argument against Mallory’s challenge to the texts. According to the interview, Eickholdt’s admission that she had “read the books aloud to children with reading difficulties” was a key element in Mallory’s assertion that the books “were being used as [an instructional] text.”

We have been fortunate that Dr. Eickholdt’s current position as a college professor has streamlined the interview process, providing us with an active and publicly available email at which to reach her, as well as a general idea of her regular schedule. To prepare for the interview, Olivia and I drafted several open-ended questions pertaining to Eickholdt’s role in the Mallory cases, her background in education, and her place in the local community. We were unfortunately constrained by Eickholdt’s limited memory of specific events during the hearing, given that it took place almost a decade ago, and we chose to focus accordingly on more general questions related to her initial impressions of Mallory, the hearing, and literary censorship as a whole. Taken together, our available articles seem to indicate that Gwinnett county citizens were mostly opposed to Mallory’s challenge; we are hoping that a series of questions regarding Eickholdt’s personal identity will help better define the contrast between Mallory and the wider community, giving us a clearer understanding of why and how she continually opposed the local consensus. Moreover, we are hoping that Eickholdt will recall enough about the superior court hearing that we will be able to construct an adequate sequence of events based on her account, as few detailed written accounts seem to currently exist beyond curated news articles.

When I originally emailed Dr. Eickholdt I was considered the primary point-of-contact and executor of this portion of the project. Given that our current project contract does allow for a degree of flexibility in determining which of us conducts interviews, and given that I will be unavailable during Dr. Eickholdt’s free time, as of now Olivia will be conducting this interview on Thursday pending Eickholdt’s consideration. This works to our credit in maintaining separate research topics and an equitable balance of labor, considering that our contract sees Olivia working primarily with Gwinnett county contacts, where my focus is prescribed to be mainly analytical. In any case, the results should be similar, given that we have both contributed to our baseline interview questions.

Report on Expert/Specialist Meetings – GC&SU

It has been around one month since I met with GC&SU research librarian Jolene Cole to discuss the Mallory case. In retrospect, it may have proved more beneficial to attend a meeting closer to the midpoint of the semester, as my knowledge of the case at the time was somewhat limited, likely leaving it difficult for Cole to offer pointed feedback. In any case, much of her early advice has remained relevant. At the time, Cole encouraged our group to compare our Gwinnett County case against other challenges to Harry Potter in the United States, one of several factors which later influenced our decision to place the case in a national framework based on the rise of a broad Religious Right, rather than a regional framework based more specifically on southern cultural homogeneity. Her observation that many of these national cases centered similarly around the theme of witchcraft led us to view the Gwinnett case through a lens of religious identity, which led naturally into the topic of the formation of a conservative Christian coalition from the 1970s to the present, given the case’s timeframe. This early consultation, ultimately, fell short of my expectations on both primary source leads and secondary information, but I recognize that the intent of the meeting was mainly to determine if our chosen topic, one of three at the time, was viable.

Shortly after the meeting with Jolene Cole, I contacted Dr. James Welborn, an academic historian specializing in the development of southern identity, via email, intending to build on the context surrounding our newly acquired topic. Specifically, I requested “any articles/books that would be useful for placing this case in the context of turn-of-the-century southern morality, religious fundamentalism, localism, etc.,” anticipating, based on references to biblical literalism in the summary of the state appellate hearing, that the case would pertain to 20th century southern evangelism. He promptly responded with a list of articles involving both the rise of the Religious Right around the “turn of the twenty-first century,” as well as “works that focus on the rise of fundamentalism in the U.S. South around the turn of the 20th century … many of which chart the evolution of such thinking well into the 1900s.” A full list of provided sources will be attached as a post-script for the sake of clarity, but among these, those that focus predominantly on the moral character of fundamentalism and common community-building strategies within the national fundamentalist sphere, like Michael Lienesch’s “The Drama at Dayton,” or Daniel K. Williams “Moral Majority,” have proved instrumental in contextualizing the way in which Mallory, who was functionally a fringe outsider receiving a minimal amount of immediate community support, engaged with what was essentially a united-front of academic freedom argumentation in favor of allowing continued access to the Harry Potter series. I have not consulted further with Dr. Welborn
in any structured capacity following this initial consultation, and his lack of direct familiarity with the case at hand would likely render any potential interview unnecessary, but regardless, his expert advice has also been instrumental in providing our project with direction, and guiding us towards a sufficient historiographic base.

Post Script: List of Relevant Secondary Sources Provided by Dr. James Welborn

Turn of 21st Century:

1) “What Is the Christian Right?” in Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics by Clyde Wilcox & Carin Robinson

2) “Religion, Race, and the Right in the South, 1945-1990” by Paul Harvey & “The Religious Right and Electoral Politics in the South” by Charles S. Bullock III & Mark C. Smith in Politics and Religion in the White South edited by Glen Feldman

3) “Moral Majority” & “Reagan” in God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right by Daniel K. Williams

4) “Advance and Retreat in the Palmetto State: Assessing the Christian Right in South Carolina” by C. Danielle Vinson & James L. Guth in The Christian Right in American Politics: Marching to the Millennium edited by John C. Green, Mark J. Rozell, & Clyde Wilcox (GAVIEW)

19th/20th centuries:

1) “Holiness” in Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 by George M. Marsden

2) “The Evolution of Plain-Folk Religion in the South, 1835-1920” by David Edwin Harrell in Varieties of Southern Religious Experiences edited by Samuel S. Hill

3) “Preface,” “Defining Fundamentalism,” & “Conclusion: Southern Fundamentalists” in Strangers in Zion: Fundamentalists in the South, 1900-1950 by William Robert Glass

4) “Take Away the Serpents from Us: The Sign of Serpent Handling and the Development of Southern Pentecostalism” by Michael J. McVicar in The Journal of Southern Religion, Vol. 15, 2013;

5) “The Drama at Dayton” in In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement by Michael Lienesch

6) “Fundamentalism in Recent Southern Culture: Has It Done What the Civil Rights Movement Couldn’t Do?” by Samuel S. Hill in Southern Crossroads: Perspectives on Religion and Culture edited by Walter H. Conser Jr. & Rodger M. Payne (GAVIEW)