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)

Existing scholarship on ejaculation has focused on the analysis of particular types of primary evidence in the form of medical treatises; pornography and erotica (broadly defined); and literature (poetry and drama).  This paper, part of a larger project on vernacular attitudes to the male body in early modern England, instead draws upon the evidence from cases related to sexual offences, in particular those heard at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1740.  Whilst printed trial reports do not offer direct access to popular mentalities or everyday attitudes, these sources do offer a different set of perspectives on early modern attitudes to male bodies and sexualities, both reinforcing and undermining arguments within the existing historiography.

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

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

3 December Negotiating #SocMedia4Hist: Technologies, Tactics and Triumphs

Claire Hayward (Kingston University), Justin Bengry (Birkbeck) and Jennifer Evans (University of Hertfordshire)

The world of social media offers historians opportunities to find collaborators and colleagues, communicate and uncover new avenues of research, shape ideas and contribute to new, global communities of enquiry. But entering this world can  be a daunting prospect, particularly for PhD students and early-career academics. Building and maintaining a profile for your work, negotiating online relationships and protecting your academic 'capital' are just some of the challenges. When your work touches on 'difficult' pasts then 'daunting' can become 'terrifying' as new social media opportunities emerge and continue to evolve.  Historians increasingly rely on Facebook as a professional tool, contribute to Wikipedia, use WordPress and other systems to blog about their research, and engage on Twitter with other #twitterstorians. Others rely on image sites like Tumblr and Flickr to uncover and disseminate resources, while there is also a community of historians on Reddit. This session, jointly convened by the Public History and History of Sexuality seminars, tackles the question of how to navigate social media, making the most of the new spaces they open up while managing some of the risks and pitfalls.
The speakers all have first-hand experience of this tricky but important task of being a 'historian in public' using online media.  Claire Hayward is a PhD candidate at Kingston University, social media co-ordinator for Cultural Histories @ Kingston , a co-ordinator of History @ Kingston department blog and has her own blog on exploring public histories.
Justin Bengry, an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London is a co-founder of the international, collaborative, open-access blog NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality.
Ciara Meehan is lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire, a regular contributor to the Irish media and co-director of the international and interdisciplinary researchers’ network, Perceptions of Pregnancy.
The emphasis is on advice, discussion and developing skills. We will be running a hashtag #SocMedia4Hist on @IHRPublicHist, @IHR_Sexuality and @NotchesBlog throughout the seminar for questions and comments from those not able to attend in person.

This session is being jointly hosted by the Public History & History of Sexuality Seminar.  Please note:  it takes place in room 304 on the third floor of the IHR, in the North Block.

9 December Orgasmic Pedagogy at two Chinese Villages near Tianjin, 1999-2000

Dr Leon Antonio Rocha (University of Liverpool)

In 1999, sociologist and sexologist Pan Suiming and his colleagues at the Institute for Research in Sexuality and Gender at Beijing’s Renmin University of China launched a pilot project on the dissemination of sexual knowledge among family planning cadres in two villages in Jinghai county, Tianjin. Thirty-one family planning cadres (24 female, 7 male) were recruited to partake in intensive training that would help them advise husbands and wives on matters related to marital sexuality. The project also yielded a 100-page training manual, entitled Sex Education Manual for Family Planning Workers, which was animated by a 'holistic' conception of sexual well-being that not only involved the absence of reproductive diseases but also every individual’s entitlement to pleasure, happiness, and fulfilment in intimate life. Such concerns dovetailed with China’s interest in a managed and choreographed 'sexual revolution', and in the maintenance of social stability via the strengthening of 'familial harmony'.

The project was endorsed by the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) of China, and funded by the Ford Foundation. Through this case study, informed by recently opened archival materials at the Rockefeller Archive Center, I dissect the tensions, convergences and contradictions between the ambitions of transnational NGOs and the objectives of the Chinese state. I seek to reconstruct the microhistory of groups of Ford officers and the Chinese academics with whom they collaborated, as well as offer a global account on the insertion and dissemination of neoliberal biopower and governmentality.


Leon Rocha is Lecturer in History and Chinese Studies at the University of Liverpool. He received his PhD from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. He is currently working on two book-projects: Harnessing Pleasure: Imagining Chinese Sexuality in the Twentieth Century and Needham Questions.

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

Spring Term 2015
DateSeminar details
6 January 'The Continuous Thread of Revelation': Chrononormativity and the Challenge of Queer Oral History

Dr Amy Tooth Murphy (University of Roehampton)

Is oral history inherently queer? Oral history has long been held as a route to foregrounding silenced and marginalised voices. Feminist oral history in particular has maintained a commitment to hearing voices that challenge hegemonic and androcentric histories. Similarly, historians of sexuality have been keen to use oral history for the exploration of LGBT and queer histories. Such research has proposed that oral history’s unique methodological and theoretical underpinnings are ideally placed for this type of recovery history. However, this paper will argue that developments in the field of queer theory may help to shine a light on, and problematise, such assumptions. Using Elizabeth Freeman’s concept of chrononormativity, I will suggest that some established methodologies of oral history interviewing might, in fact, have the potential to inhibit, rather than facilitate, the telling of queer narratives. In particular, I will argue that the implicit use of normative narrative frameworks to structure storytelling and interview encounters can lead to the inevitable ‘failure’ of queer narrators to achieve narrative composure.

Joint seminar with the Oral History seminar

27 January The De-Naturalization of Sexuality in 21st Century Psychology

Peter Hegarty (Surrey)

17 February Sex backwards. Sexology speaks about desire in communist Czechoslovakia

KateĊ™ina Lišková (Masaryk University)

10 March Portugal on the periphery? Scenarios from the History of Sexuality, 1900-1960

Richard Cleminson (Leeds)

Summer Term 2015
DateSeminar details
5 May 'Gourmet guides to love making': Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex and the sex manual in 1970s Britain

Ben Mechen (UCL)

Reproduction, eugenics, and the fight for free love at the fin de siècle
Sarah Jones (Exeter)

26 May TBC

16 June Stopes v. Ellis: A Critically Queer Take on Normal Sex

Laura Doan (Manchester)