History seminars at the IHR

History of Sexuality Seminar

Convenors: Anna Schaffner (University of Kent), Chiara Beccalossi (Oxford Brookes), Alison Oram (Leeds Metropolitan University), Craig Griffiths (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: From Autumn 2014, Holden Room, 103, first floor of Senate House

Time: Tuesdays 18:00

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

Some podcasts from this seminar are available online

Autumn Term 2014
DateSeminar details
7 October The episcopal body and sexuality in late medieval England

Dr Katherine Harvey (Birkbeck College, University of London)

(Chair: Jane Mackelworth, PhD candidate, Queen Mary, University of London)

This paper examines the significance of episcopal sexuality in medieval England, with a particular focus on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries- that is, the first two centuries after the Gregorian reform movement made celibacy an obligation for all priests, and a period which has been described as a golden age of episcopal sanctity in Western Europe. This new emphasis on clerical celibacy meant that the sexual behaviour of would-be saint bishops was intensely scrutinised; such men needed to be unquestionably celibate, and preferably virginal, if they were to stand any chance of being formally canonised. In this talk, I will approach episcopal sexuality through the prism of contemporary ideas about medicine and the body, in order to shed new light on the lived experience of clerical celibacy from the perspective of a group of men who were particularly devoted to this troublesome ideal. Questions to be addressed include: How was long-term celibacy thought to affect the health of religious men? How could medical knowledge help clerics to achieve bodily purity? How did sexuality relate to the ascetic lifestyle, and how did hagiographers use this relationship to suggest that their subjects were truly celibate? And how could such ideas be subverted, in order to suggest that a less-than-saintly bishop was falling far short of the standards expected of him? 

28 October Echoes and nods: recognition, genealogy and writing the queer archive

Dr Natasha Alden (University of Aberystwyth)

This paper explores how three contemporary queer authors make use of the past. I focus on three recent historical novels, to ask how queer writers engage with, and shape, current debates around the nature and stability of queer identity. Children of the Sun (Max Schaefer, 2010), London Triptych (Jonathan Kemp, 2010) and The Stranger’s Child(Alan Hollinghurst, 2011) all depict different periods (the 1970s and the current day, the late Victorian era, the 1950s and the 1990s, and most of the 20th century, respectively), but what they have in common is a desire to reach into the past to draw some kind of genealogical connection between the present and previous generations of gay people (gay men, in this instance). How, then, might historical fiction allow authors to intervene in debates about the possibility of drawing connections between queer identities over time; can we ever hope to identify, or identify with, queer people in the past? Using Suzanne Keen’s work on the metafictional significance of the archival quest in Romances of the Archive, and Dominick LaCapra’s work on empathic unsettlement, I explore the use of the search for a lost or obliterated past in the texts which motivates both characters and author, and is of particular significance in understanding queer fiction’s engagement with the evolution and future of queer identities.


'What went on between Brock and Bob?'  Robert Oboussier, Werner Brock, and the evolution of gay identities in the Twentieth Century
Dr Lars Fischer (University College London)

Robert Oboussier (1900–1957) was a Belgian-born composer and critic who left Nazi Germany after the November Pogrom of 1938 and lived in Zurich for the rest of his life where, from 1948 onwards, he played a key role in the establishment of the Swiss Cooperative Society of Music Authors and Publishers. On 9 June 1957, he was murdered by a young man he had picked up at a well known cruising spot the night before. Having done his best to keep his homosexuality a secret for all of his adult life, it thus became public knowledge and the object of much (often lurid) discussion, and the subsequent trial was seen by many to treat Oboussier rather than his murderer as the true defendant.

­­Werner Brock (1901–1974) was of Jewish origin. He initially trained as a philosopher of biology and then as a philosopher. From 1930 until his flight in 1933, he taught in Freiburg where he was Heidegger's assistant. He was able to secure a succession of temporary contracts in Cambridge until 1948 when he was forced to leave Cambridge in disgrace following a major breakdown and some sort of alleged sexual transgression. Initially institutionalized, and chemically castrated, in the UK, he returned to Germany in 1951 under restitution arrangements where he taught at Freiburg again until 1969. Throughout this period and until his death he was repeatedly institutionalized for long periods of time in the psychiatric clinic in Emmendingen and eventually died there.

When close friends went through Oboussier's papers following his death (before, alas, destroying them in accordance with the stipulations of his will), it transpired that Oboussier and Brock had been more closely involved than any of their friends had hitherto realized. Both men had been associated for many years with Gertrud Mayer-Jaspers, the Jewish wife of the German (non-Jewish) philosopher (and Heidegger's arch-rival), Karl Jaspers, various of her relatives, and Jaspers himself. The destruction of Oboussier's and, evidently, also of Brock's relevant papers notwithstanding, various correspondences in the Jaspers archive in Marbach go some way to answering the question raised by Gertrud Mayer-Jaspers in a letter to her sister-in-law, Ella Mayer, in 1958: 'What went on between Brock and Bob?'

This paper will seek to indicate the relevance of the two men's experiences, and relations between them, as a test case for some of the currently prevalent historiographial assumptions about the evolution of gay identities in the twentieth century and highlight some of the vagaries and idiosyncrasies involved in undertaking research of this kind.

(Chair: Claire Hayward, PhD candidate, Kingston University London)

18 November Attitudes to ejaculation in early modern England

Dr Tim Reinke-Williams (University of Northampton)

(Chair:  Jane Mackelworth, PhD candidate, Queen Mary, University of London)

This seminar will be co-hosted with the Life-Cycles Seminar series

9 December Reproductive Health, the Ford Foundation, and the Chinese Sexual Revolution

Dr Leon Antonio Rocha (University of Liverpool)

(Chair:  Claire Hayward, PhD candidate, Kingston University London)