Thomson (Izzy) Korostoff

Penn Humanities Forum Undergraduate Fellow

20152016 Forum on Sex

Thomson (Izzy) Korostoff

Urban Studies

College of Arts and Sciences, 2018

Thomson studies people and places through the lenses of geography, history, and literature. His research interests include urban historical geography, spatial history,urban morphology (as both an aesthetic and historical artifact) and cultural landscapes. His project for the Humanities Forum, Prostitution on the Grid and the Page in 19th-Century Philadelphia, is another facet of his multidisciplinary study of the physical and cultural history of the city applying spatial analysis to primary documents and historical data. This project uses an 1849 “A Guide to the Stranger,” a guidebook to Philadelphia’s brothels, as the foundation of a data-fueled exploration of the sexual history of the city. Previously, as a participant in the Undergraduate Urban Research Colloquium (Spring 2015), Thomson contributed to The Ward project, a GIS-based spatial and temporal expansion of W.E.B. DuBois’ famous 1899 study of the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Negro.

Ill-Fame on Blackberry Alley: Prostitution in 19th Century Philadelphia

The 19th century offers a view of prostitution in a time of its open celebration. A remarkably permissive attitude towards sex work defies conventional understandings of “Victorian prudery” and makes for a fascinating period of American sexual history. Though the 20th century history of prostitution is defined by efforts to regulate the practice on moral grounds, the 19th century allows an assessment of the bawdy life through the eye of the market. In the mid 19th-century, the era of established brothels as social spaces, the urban leisure and sex trade was found objectionable only as noise disturbances. This project conducts a spatial analysis of the 19th century leisure economy via a public guide, in contrast to the 20th-century post-reform accounts of prostitution in arrest records or city Vice Commission reports.