History seminars at the IHR

History of Sexuality Seminar

Convenors: Anna Schaffner (University of Kent), Chiara Beccalossi (University of Lincoln), Alison Oram (Leeds Metropolitan University), Craig Griffiths (UCL/Queen Mary), Christopher M. Waters (Williams University), Heike Bauer (Birkbeck), Jana Funke (University of Exeter), Julia Laite (Birkbeck), Jane Mackelworth (Queen Mary), Justin Bengry (Birkbeck/McGill), Claire Hayward (Kingston University), Matt Cook (Birkbeck), Sean Brady (Birkbeck), Sarah Toulalan (University of Exeter)

Venue: Room SH246, 2nd floor, South block, Senate House unless otherwise stated

Time: Tuesdays 17:15

The seminar series is convened by the Raphael Samuel History Centre. All seminars are open to all and there is no need to register in advance. If you have any questions about the seminar please contact Craig Griffiths at: c.griffiths@qmul.ac.uk

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Some podcasts from this seminar are available online

Summer Term 2016
DateSeminar details
24 May Medical appeals to sexuality in understanding and policing those who wanted to 'change sex' during the 1930s and 1940s

Clare Tebbutt (Nottingham Trent University)

In 1930s Britain there were numerous newspaper articles about people whose sex had been reclassified. These stories were informed by endocrinological developments that were challenging sexual dimorphism. L. R. Broster et al, The Adrenal Cortex and Intersexuality (1938) compiled scores of cases of sex variation and journalists drew on Broster’s research. In turn, medics such as Clifford Allen and Norman Haire bemoaned the fact that the press stories were encouraging people to seek medical assistance to determine or to change their sex. The public uncertainty and debate around sex categorisation had implications for how sexuality could be understood. I consider how homosexuality was both denigrated and naturalised as medics strove to interpret sexual desire in relation to somatic sex.


14 June Sensuous Objects: Writing the History of Sexuality from Ancient Art

Caspar Meyer (Birkbeck)

It is commonplace among classicists to criticize Michel Foucault’s studies of ancient sexuality for its undue reliance on elite texts and the corresponding absence of female perspectives. One aspect of ancient sexual experience that has been neglected by Foucault and his critics alike is its sensory constitution. Although recent years have seen a surge in publications dealing with the history of the body in antiquity, as far as its material sources are concerned this work has resulted in re-classification of the contents of the discipline’s established corpora rather than re-consideration of classificatory pursuits per se. Whereas new histories of ancient art tend to order their pictorial subjects according to gender, status and age instead of the traditional stylistic and typological criteria, they rarely address the dynamics between object, image and person that render classification desirable in the first place. The goal of this paper is to explore what phenomenological approaches to time and embodiment hold out for reinserting objects into histories of sexuality. It starts by examining the unacknowledged dependence of Foucault’s own work on Greek sexuality on the pederastic scenes of Athenian painted pottery as an example of a modernist tendency to view objects as commodities, existing beyond time, and then moves on to exploring some of the possibilities which ancient art can present for writing history of sexuality as a history of visual representations with specific durational qualities, existing in human time.


21 June Que(e)rying Social Purity: Sexology, Theology, and Sexual Modernity

Joy Dixon (University of British Columbia)

Until relatively recently, historians of sexuality have tended to rely on an unexamined narrative of secularization which assumes the ‘displacement’ of religion by science as the enabling context for the emergence of ‘modern’ understandings of sexuality. Focusing on organisations like the Church of England Purity Society and the White Cross League, this paper explores a different version of the sexual ‘modern’, one which was in fact enabled by the complex relationships between a newly renovated and defensive conservative Christian orthodoxy (operating across the theological spectrum) and the new sexual sciences.