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

You can subscribe to the seminar mailing list online

Some podcasts from this seminar are available online

Spring Term 2016
DateSeminar details
19 January Culturally Situating Sadism and Masochism in Havelock Ellis's Love and Pain: the uses of history and anthropology in the construction of sexual kinds

Ivan Crozier (University of Sydney)

For the first part of the twentieth century, sadomasochism was an object well within the control of sexology and psychiatry. Because they were allied to psychiatry, sexologists paid particular attention to the sex lives of individuals who enjoyed pain or humiliation; because they were sympathetic to biology, they looked to studies of the natural world to ground their universal theories of the sexual impulse. And as the names Sadism and Masochism suggest, sexologists also drew on literary traditions that contributed to the construction of ideas about the eroticisation of pain.

This paper looks at another important part of this sexological construction of sadism and masochism – the use of historical and anthropological sources as evidence for the universalism of these sexual categories.  It focuses on Havelock Ellis’s work, Love and Pain (1903; 2nd ed. 1913). While it is still important to situate this text in relation to the field of other sexological and psychiatric writings derived from case histories of individual’s sexual practices, and in relation to the natural historical understanding of sexualised violence as a part of animal mating behaviours that was used to ‘naturalise’ these sexual tastes, there is a lot of non-psychiatric and non-biological source material in this book that Ellis drew upon in order to construct his understanding of algophilia. By examining Ellis’s adaptation of historical and anthropological sources into sexological observation when he was faced with lack of sexual evidence about the kinds of people his works were producing, I seek to rethink how sexological knowledge is constructed by understanding how non-sexological sources are rearticulated into the sexological field.


9 February Life writings and sexual sciences: writing the queer self in early 20th-century Germany and Austria

Ina Linge (University of Cambridge)

This paper will explore the crucial yet largely overlooked literary dimensions of sexological and psychoanalytic life writings from the first half of the twentieth century. Bringing to bear gender and queer theory to illuminate the intersection between literature and scientific discourses, it will show that queer subjects actively mobilize medico-scientific discourses in order to sustain a livable bodily and gendered identity. As such, life writings in fact offer a unique insight into the (im)possibilities for those under duress to give an adequate account of themselves.

'Curing Queers'. Mental Nurses and their Patients, 1935-1974
Tommy Dickinson (University of Manchester)

Drawing on a rich array of source materials including previously unseen, fascinating (and often quite moving) oral histories, archival and news media sources, this paper examines the plight of men who were institutionalised in British mental hospitals to receive "treatment" for homosexuality and transvestism, and the perceptions and actions of the men and women who nursed them. It examines why the majority of the nurses followed orders in administering the treatment-in spite of the zero success-rate in "straightening out" queer men-but also why a small number surreptitiously defied their superiors by engaging in fascinating subversive behaviours.


19 February Pride of Place: England's LGBTQ Heritage

Rosie Sherrington (Historic England), Alison Oram (Leeds Beckett University), Justin Bengry (Birkbeck, University of London and Leeds Beckett University)

‘Pride of Place: England's LGBTQ Heritage’ is a collaborative initiative between Leeds Beckett University and Historic England to explore the relationship between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) history and the country’s buildings and spaces. The project aims to show that LGBTQ heritage is a fundamental part of our national heritage and to improve knowledge of, and access to, this diverse history. As part of this project we are using crowd sourcing techniques in the mapping the widest range of historical LGBTQ locations across England. A key feature of this initiative is engagement with the community, who are encouraged to identify sites of LGBTQ historical significance including everything from commercial and leisure locations, interiors and outside spaces, national historic sites and even domestic spaces in both the recent and more distant past. When completed the project will include not only the interactive map, but also an online exhibition, guidance packs for heritage and community groups, a teaching pack for use in schools, and other outputs. After the recent success of the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern being listed as Grade II on the basis of its significance to LGBTQ history and heritage, we hope to recommend further locations for listing and amend the descriptions of currently listed buildings to identify their LGBTQ historical significance.
Website: historicengland.org.uk/prideofplace
Interactive Map: mapme.com/prideofplace

Co-hosted with the Public history and Digital history seminars Starting at the earlier time of 17:15

Venue: Room S246, 2nd floor, South block, Senate House


1 March Venereologists Across Europe: Soviet Sexual Science as Cosmopolitan Practice 1917-1937

Philippa Hetherington (UCL)

 In post-1917 Russia, doctors and scientists researching the so-called 'social diseases' received unprecedented institutional and financial support. Key amongst these fields of research was venerologiia - venereology - which became a focal point for broader Soviet concerns about social hygiene and sexual health.  Led by the tireless Vol'f Bronner (whose name eventually graced the main Soviet institute for venereal science), the interwar Soviet venereologists emphasised the importance of 'social venereology': research into  the the everyday behaviours of populations with high rates of venereal disease, in particular prostitutes and others who engaged in commercial sex.

In their work on the social conditions of venereal disease and especially prostitution, Soviet venereologists engaged directly with other European, and especially German, scientists. Even after the Soviet state had stopped the Tsarist practice of sending official representatives to anti-white slavery organizations in continental Europe, Soviet doctors continued to attend meetings of international prostitution abolitionists, such as the Sixth Congress on the Struggle Against the Traffic in Women and Children in 1924. At the the 1924 Congress, Bronner took the opportunity to declare the war on prostitution in the Soviet Union won (a position he did not claim when writing for a domestic audience), emphasizing the need for economic reform in order to eradicate the social roots of prostitution.

This paper will explore these international connections in order to ask: what did it mean for interwar Soviet venereologists to engage with sexual science at an international scale? What role did the participation of Soviet venereologists play in the evolution of international prostitution abolitionism after 1918? Finally, what were the domestic ramifications of these experiments in international governmentality, given the influence of these venereologists on local Soviet policy regarding prostitution? Ultimately, the paper aims to go beyond the tracing of international scientific networks (on which there is a large and rich literature) by interrogating the interplay between domestic and international scales in the formulation of apparently 'liberal' and 'illiberal' policies towards commercial sex in the interwar period.


Summer Term 2016
DateSeminar details
21 June "Curing" the Queer Body: Sex Reassignment, Citizenship, and Mexican Identity in a Global Context, 1953-1960

Ryan Jones (SUNY Geneseo)

To the existing slot on 21 June (Ryan Jones), the following abstract:
In 1953 and 1954, a young man named Jorge received the first sex-change operation in Mexico through which he transitioned to Marta. The lead doctor in his case, Rafael Sandoval Camacho, argued in his 1957 book Una contributción experimental al studio de la homosexualidad (An experimental contribution to the study of homosexuality) that the surgery was a benevolent and necessary solution to the “problem” of homosexuality that other therapies, notably psychoanalysis and endocrinological interventions, could not “cure.” The case caused a flurry of public responses, from surprise to admiration that such a technical surgery was possible in a developing country to open ridicule from critics. Debates broke out on what the surgery meant for legal understandings of citizenship, the bodily integrity upon which Mexican identity rested, and the role of the state and medical science in addressing what was not illegal behavior, i.e., homosexuality (decriminalized in 1871). The surgery also signified an attempt to reorder the queer body and the “stigmata” produced by homosexuality into a heternormative body that could move through and participate within society as normal; likewise, Marta, who claimed she received marriage proposals after the surgery, was believed to now be free to pursue life among mainstream society.

Marta’s transition occurred on the heels of more celebrated cases, such as Christine Jorgensen’s transition in Europe, and the Mexican press latched on to these international cases in their investigations into the homosexual communities in Mexico after Marta’s case. It thus offers a unique opportunity to understand a global phenomenon in one of its early metropoles—Mexico would go on to be the site for numerous American sex-change operations, as this was illegal in the US at the time and more affordable than travel to Europe. This paper thus examines the interrelated threads associated with Marta’s transition, from the local and Mexican contexts to the international debates on sex-reassignment and Mexico’s contributions to them. It offers an account of Jorge’s life pre-operation, as well as the surgeries and Sandoval’s account of the therapies his team deployed. It then discusses the public reaction and publicity associated with the event and the way in which the case became represented in visual culture, particularly political cartoons. It then concludes with the overall challenges that the case raised in ongoing discussions of Mexican identity, citizenship, and society, as well as Mexico’s role within the global, mid-century debates on homosexuality, science, and bodies.