Since 2007, Joe Orser has thought about Chang and Eng, a pair of nineteenth century conjoined twins, every day.
It was then he began his graduate school dissertation at the University of Ohio, now the book — after nearly a decade in the making — is on shelves of bookstores, and scholars across the country have reviewed it.
The English and history professor’s book, “The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam’s Twins in Nineteenth Century America,” looks at the social and cultural places and spaces Chang and Eng Bunker occupied during the 19th century.
The pair of famous conjoined twins came to the U.S. in the mid-1800s and toured the country. Their lives in the antebellum south raised a variety of conversations about race, religion, medicine and sexuality.
“In many ways their lives reflect common, everyday lives of southern Asian men,” Orser said. “In other ways they are totally exceptional.”
Orser’s text focuses not only on the biographical elements of their lives but also on the sense of curiosity and amazement that surrounded them.
“The twins were a window through which other people asked questions,” Orser said, holding the book in his hands, noting it “feels wonderful” to finally be done with the project.
The book, which is 259 pages but not quite as thick as Orser expected it to be, is at its core an academic text. However, Orser said he tried to make the text as accessible as possible to the general reader.
“I hope people read it,” Orser said with a smirk. “I hope they like it.”
The university community will have a chance to hear Orser speak about the book and even get a copy signed Monday evening at an event The Priory Speakers Series committee sponsors.
Committee member and history faculty member Jim Oberly said the purpose of these events is to promote the work of university faculty.
“It’s a very demanding task,” Oberly said of producing an academic text.
Orser said he’s ready to move on from thinking constantly about Chang and Eng and start thinking about his next project, noting he is intrigued by the effects American and European missionaries had in Southeast Asia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
One thing Orser is not so sure about is signing books, as he said with a chuckle that his autograph could use some work.