The Sewing Girl's Tale
Thursday, October 6, 2022 | 5:00–6:30 PM | 406 International Affairs Building, Lehman Suite
On a moonless night in the summer of 1793 a crime in the back room of a New York brothel transformed Lanah Sawyer’s life. It was the kind of crime that even victims usually kept secret. Instead, the seventeen-year-old seamstress did what virtually no one else dared to do: she charged a gentleman with rape. The trial rocked the city and nearly cost Lanah her life. And that was just the start.
Based on extraordinary historical detective work, Lanah Sawyer’s story takes us from a chance encounter in the street into the squalor of the city’s sexual underworld, the sanctuaries of the elite, and the despair of its debtors’ prison—a world where reality was always threatened by hope and deceit. It reveals how much has changed over the past two centuries—and how much has not.
John Wood Sweet is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and former director of UNC’s Program in Sexuality Studies. He graduated from Amherst College (summa cum laude) and earned his Ph.D. in History at Princeton University. His first book, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, was a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Prize. He has served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, and his work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Institute for Arts and Humanities at UNC, the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale, the McNeil Center at Penn, and the Center for Global Studies in Culture, Power, and History at Johns Hopkins. He lives in Chapel Hill with his husband, son, and daughter.
Co-sponsored by the Lehman Center for American History
Alvin Baltrop's Voyeurism: Sexual Perversity, Race, and the Historical Uses of Photography
Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 | 5:00–6:30 pm | 411 Fayerweather Hall
Since the 2019 solo exhibition The Life and Times of Alvin Baltrop at the Bronx Museum, black gay photographer Alvin Baltrop, known for his portraits of the gay sexual subcultures and abandoned warehouses at New York's West Side Piers, has received increased scholarly and popular attention. However, Baltrop has been primarily discussed as a gay artist who focused on gay subcultures. Though Baltrop's race, class, gender, and sexuality shaped his artistry, few scholars have analyzed how these identity markers shaped his life and times. This talk explores how Baltrop's identification as a black gay voyeur shaped his artistic practice and life experiences in the 1970s. Since Baltrop viewed his photography as historical documentation of a fleeting gay subculture, the talk also considers how his voyeuristic approach to photography might intervene in the practice of queer history.
Darius Bost is Associate Professor of Black Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the co-principal investigator of the Provost’s Initiative on the Racialized Body. He is also co-editor of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. Bost is the author of the award-winning book, Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence (Chicago, 2019).
The Report, or, Whatever Happened to Third World Feminist Theory?
Thursday, March 9, 2023 | 5:00–6:30 pm | 411 Fayerweather Hall
This talk offers a genealogy of the “status of women reports" produced across the decolonizing world. I reflect on the epistemological and ethical dilemmas of the rise of the policy report, which has functioned as the primary mode of research on gender and minoritized sexualities in the multinational knowledge industry of UN, governmental agencies, and NGOs since the 1970s. This new political economy of women and gender was built on biologically determinist notions of sexual difference based in fields like demography and population studies. Even as they claimed to represent the rights of women and LGBTQ people, these reports often obscured political questions of caste, class, and racial domination. In rethinking the history of the report, I raise two methodological questions for the history of sexuality: how does a truly global historiography of sexuality engage the endless archives of international policy reports? What forms of knowing have been lost as decades of intellectual energy and material resources have been devoted to the report?
Durba Mitra is the Richard B. Wolf Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University and Acting Faculty Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Her book, Indian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought (Princeton, 2020), demonstrates how ideas of deviant female sexuality became foundational to modern social thought.
Past Events, 2021–22
QUEER MEXICAN MIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES, 1965-2000
Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, 5:00–6:30 PM (online via Zoom)
Did being gay prompt Mexican men to migrate to the United States in the second half of the twentieth century? In Pathways of Desire, sociologist Héctor Carrillo argues that in the 1980s and 1990s the desire to escape job discrimination and familial disapproval prompted many gay Mexicans to leave for what they believed would be the greater sexual and cultural freedom of the United States. In Undocumented Lives, historian Ana Minian argues that from the 1960s to 1980s, queer men were less likely to migrate than their straight peers because they believed their jobs and lives (including their sexual lives) were better in their hometowns than they would be in the US. In this conversation, moderated by George Chauncey (Columbia), they will present their major research findings and discuss both the disciplinary differences and late twentieth-century transnational cultural changes in Mexico and the US that may account for their different conclusions.
Héctor Carrillo is Professor of Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University. His past research and teaching have centered on the sociology of sexuality, immigration, and health. His most recent book, Pathways of Desire: The Sexual Migration of Mexican Gay Men (Chicago), received the 2020 ASA Distinguished Scholarly Book Award, the top book award in the field of sociology. He is currently conducting research on the social significance of amateur genealogy.
Ana Minian is an Associate Professor of History at Stanford University who works on questions of Latin American and Caribbean migration. She is the author of Undocumented Lives: The Untold Story of Mexican Migration (Harvard), which won awards from the Organization of American Historians, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, and other scholarly organizations. She has published articles in the JAH, the AHR, and American Quarterly and is currently writing a book on the history of immigration detention in the United States.
Co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
EXPERIMENTS IN SKIN: "Resting" History, Intimate Labor, and the Chemical Afterlife of Vietnam
Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022 | 5:00–6:30 PM | 411 Fayerweather Hall
Environmental historians have characterized the Vietnam War as a “chemical war,” fought with chemically-saturated explosives and incendiaries, tear gas and firebombs, herbicides and insecticides. Despite decades of scientific research, legal challenges, and political organizing, the consequences of this broad chemical exposure remain shrouded in a politics of uncertainty. This talk offers an account of how Vietnam's chemical war was recorded on the body’s surface, and how Vietnamese women living with fears of on-going contamination come to labor with war's toxic “afterlife.” Drawn from research at a spa in Saigon, Thuy Linh Tu considers how women speculate about historical conditions that “rest” (nằm nghĩ) in their bodies, and seek remediation for ailments that appear on their skin, in the absence of medical certainty about what ails them, and without expectations for a “clean" environmental future.
Thuy Linh Tu is Professor of American Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University and the author, most recently, of Experiments in Skin: Race and Beauty in the Shadows of Vietnam (Duke UP, 2021). Her current research projects include “The Chinese in Indian Land,” an examination of the “insourcing” of textile manufacturing from China to the U.S. South and the resulting contests over race and region, and a collaborative study of debt and incarceration as a member of the NYU Prison Education Program's Research Collective.
PETRO-SEXUALITY: Histories of Oil and Intimacy
Thursday, Apr. 7, 2022 | 5:00–6:30 PM | 411 Fayerweather Hall
In recent years, energy humanities scholars have highlighted how the ability to do biopolitical work – to discipline the body and regulate populations – has relied on the availability of fossil fuels. The Caribbean has played a vital if also understudied role in the hydrocarbon age, transforming intimate selves and sensibilities in the process. This talk explores the interconnections among the histories of sexuality and the age of oil. Focusing on Aruba and Curaçao, islands that once housed the world’s largest oil refineries, it charts how transnational oil companies introduced peculiar forms of sexual and reproductive regulation intended to maximize oil revenues and discipline Caribbean subjects. Building on extensive archival research in the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States, Schields insists that global energy systems cannot be understood without attention to the sexual and racialized interventions that fueled their emergence.
Chelsea Schields is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. Her scholarship explores the histories of sexuality, race, and the politics of oil and empire in the Caribbean and Europe. With Dagmar Herzog, she is co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Sexuality and Colonialism (2021). Her book, Offshore Attachments: Oil and Intimacy in the Caribbean, is forthcoming with the University of California Press.
This event will be held in person. Open to CUID holders only. No registration required.
HOW TO WRITE A TRANSGENDER HISTORY OF SEXUALITY
Thursday, Mar. 3, 2022 | 5:00–6:30 PM | 411 Fayerweather Hall
What relationship does transgender history maintain with the history of sexuality? And if history bears no unified trans subject, on what grounds does the trans historian write? This talk considers problems of method through the nagging gender trouble of trans history: the presumptive greater visibility of trans women compared to trans men. Examining transformations in how trans women sex workers in New York City were apprehended by the law over the span of the nineteenth century generates concrete grounds for a transgender history of sexuality.
Jules Gill-Peterson is Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. She earned her PhD from Rutgers University and has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Kinsey Institute. She was honored with the Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award from the University of Pittsburgh in 2020.
Jules is the author of Histories of the Transgender Child (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), the first book to shatter the widespread myth that transgender children are a brand new generation in the twenty-first century. Uncovering a surprising archive dating from the 1920s through 1970s, Histories of the Transgender Child shows how the concept of gender relies on the medicalization of children's presumed racial plasticity, challenging the very terms of how we talk about today's medical model. The book was awarded a Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction and the Children’s Literature Association Book Award.
Jules has also written for The New York Times, CNN, The Lily (by The Washington Post), Jewish Currents, The New Inquiry, The Funambulist, and more. She has been interviewed extensively in The Guardian, CBS, NPR, and Xtra Magazine. She also serves as a General Co-Editor at TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.
This event will be held in person. Open to CUID holders only. No registration required.