History 393S: Topics in the History of Sexuality in the United States

Spring 2004

Friday: 2:30-5:00, 214 Herter

Professor Laura Lovett

635 Herter Hall



Office Hours: M 1:15-2:15, F 2-2:30, and by appointment

Course Description:

This reading seminar will consider selected topics in the History of Sexuality in the United States from the colonial era to the present. Topics may include shifting definitions of sexualities (including bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, straight, transgendered, and transsexual sexualities), sexual science and eugenics, the debate over biological determinism and the social construction of sexuality, the relationship between experiences of sexuality and their definitions, changing portrayals of sexuality in the media, social activism with regard to a variety of sexuality issues, and the value of  using sexuality as a historical framework for issues in US social, cultural, and political history.

I expect everyone in this class to be courteous, cooperative, and supportive of each other at all times.  You may disagree with someone's ideas or values, but please be mindful and respectful of each other's differences. All opinions are welcome.


n     Provide an historical perspective on the changing meanings of sexual categories, their development, and their deployment in specific contexts.

n     Provide a survey of events and experiences concerning the history of sexuality which until recently were not given a voice by historians.

n     Explore the relevance of the history of sexuality for contemporary events and for our understanding of other types of history.

Texts: (Available at Food For Thought Books or at Library Reserves)

Kathy Peiss, Major Problem s in the History of American Sexuality

Lisa Duggan, Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity

Elizabeth Kennedy and Madeline Davis, Boots of Leather - Slippers of Gold: A History of  a Lesbian Community

Martin Duberman, Stonewall

Selected articles and book chapters

Course Website: http://webct.oit.umass.edu


Discussion Leader:  Each week we will have two student discussion leaders and one student presentation. The discussion leaders should be prepared to lead a discussion on the assigned reading with at least three open ended questions or themes to explore. They may want to circulate the questions in advance to the seminar participants or suggest areas of concentration for the week's readings. Student discussion leaders should meet with instructor at least two days in advance of the meetings for which they are leading.

Presentation and Write-Up: Each week one student will make a presentation to the class concerning  both the topic for that week and its relevance to a contemporary issue.  Some possible presentation topics are included in the course schedule below. Students are welcome to suggest other topics. Student presenters should meet with instructor to discuss the presentation at least one week before they present to the class. Presentations should be 15-20 minutes long.  They should extend the class's perspective on the historical material for that week by demonstrating how it connects to some contemporary concern.  Presentations may take any format you wish, but you should remember that this material will probably  be unfamiliar material to the class. You will also be expected to write-up your presentation as a 4-5 page paper due one week after you present.

Response Papers: Each week you will be asked to respond in writing to the reading before coming to class.  You may post your responses on the appropriate discussion pages on the class website OR you may elect to write a 2 page paper due at the beginning of class. You will also be asked to write a response to the North American Sexualities Conference.

Project: Each student will be required to conduct outside research on some topic related to this course and then construct an annotated historiography "teaching kit" for that topic.  A teaching kit should include a critical overview of your topic, a selection of "primary materials," an annotated bibliography of the relevant literature and media resources, an analysis paper discussing the historiography of your topic, and a timeline of important events, for which you may want to use the Timeline Tool (discussed in class). Students will present their teaching kits to the class during the last two weeks of the term.  Final projects will be due at the end of the term.

            Participation:  You are expected to attend every class meeting, to be prepared, and to contribute to our discussion.  Your participation grade will consider both the quality and quantity of your  contributions to the class discussion.  Attendance at the North American Sexualities conference on April 24th is required.


Discussion Leader    20%
Presentation and Write-Up 20%
Response Papers  30%
Project 20%
Participation 10%


Grade Scale

The University Grade Scale will be followed:

A = 93 and above; AB = 88-92; B = 83-87; BC = 78-82; C = 73-77; CD = 68-72; D = 60-67; F = 59 and below.

Late Assignments

            Papers handed in late will be graded down one letter grade per day late. Discussion leading  and class presentations cannot be made up with out an approved excuse. 

Academic Honesty

            Plagiarism is a serious violation of expected academic conduct.  Your work must be your own.  If you quote or paraphrase work from someone else, you must give credit and provide a reference for that source.  Links to guidelines on plagiarism, including the official policy on academic honesty, can be found on the following webpage: http://www.umass.edu/history/links_writing.html.  The penalty for plagiarism in this class is zero credit for the assignment in question.


            If you have a documented disability that may affect your performance in the class, please speak to the instructor as soon as possible so that appropriate arrangements can be made.

Reading:  You are expected to do the assigned reading in advance of each class.  I have not assigned many of the articles included in the Peiss collection yet.  I'd like to decide as a class what we would like to read from this collection.

Schedule (subject to change)

1/30    Introductions, Deciding Curricula

Peiss, Chapter 1.                  

2/6      Colonialism and Categories (Documents in Peiss on T. Hall)

Alfred Kroeber  on Homosexuality and Berdache from Character and Personality, volume 8 (Sept. 1939-June 1940), p. 209-211. http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/gaybears/kroeber/

Will Roscoe, Changing Ones Sideshow. http://www.geocities.com/westhollywood/stonewall/3044/slide0.html

Richard Trexler, Making the American Berdache: Choice or constraint? Journal of Social History, Spring, 2002.


Patrick Califia, "The Berdache Wars and "Passing Women" Follies: Transphobia in Gay Academia from Sex Changes: Transgender Politics, 2nd Edition, 120-163

Possible Presentation Topic:

Alfred Kroeber's daughter is Ursula LeGuin, the famous science fiction writer.  For your presentation consider how her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, re-imagines sexuality.  Do you think her father's work influenced her approach to sexuality in this novel?

2/13    Sex and Censorship

Helen Horowitz, "Victoria Woodhull, Anthony Comstock and Conflict Over Sex in the United States in the 1870s," Journal of American History, Vol 87, September 2000. http://silk.library.umass.edu:2400/journals/jah/87.2/horowitz.html

Possible Presentation Topic:

Feb. 13 is V-day . In Amherst, Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues will be performed at 7pm  by students at Amherst High School.  Some people in Amherst have wanted to shut down this production. Others have questioned its inclusiveness.  Explore issues of sexuality and censorship in the presentation of the Vagina Monologues.

2/20    Sexual and Racial Dualisms in the "Gay '90s"

Lisa Duggan, Sapphic Slashers

 Possible Presentation Topic:

Consider contemporary media representations of homosexuality. Do contemporary representations perpetuate stereotypes about gays and lesbians? Resource: Vito Russo's Celluloid Closet

2/27    Heterosexual Norms and the Reproductive Imperative

Angus McLaren, Twentieth Century Sex: A History, Chapter 4: ""Race Suicide": Birth Control, Abortion, and Family Stability"

3/5      Under Fire

Allan Berube, "Coming Out Under Fire"

Jennifer Terry, An American Obsession,Chapter 9: "Disease or Way of Life?"

Joanne Meyerowitz, "Sex Research at the Borders of Gender: Transvestites, Transsexuals and Alfred C. Kinsey," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75 (2001), pp. 72-90.

3/12    Homophilia

Elizabeth Kennedy and Madeline Davis, Boots of Leather - Slippers of Gold

Film: Last Call at Maud's

Possible Presentation Topic:

The Valley Women's History Collaborative is an active group of students, scholars, and activists dedicated to researching, collecting, preserving, and publicizing lesbian and feminist history in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.  Explore the Pioneer Valley's lesbian community history.  What makes this community distinct? Contact Dr. Joyce Berkman or Dr. Susan Tracy for info.

3/19    Spring Break (Note: We will begin reading conference papers now.)

3/26    Sexual Revolutions

Guest: Prof. Joyce Berkman

Martin Duberman, Stonewall

4/2      Representations and HIV/AIDS

Guest: Babette Faehmel

Peiss, pp.451-483

4/9      Legal Norms and Sexuality

Guest: Prof. Thomas Hilbink

Lawrence v. Texas


Civil Unions and Gay Marriage

Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health


4/16    North American Sexualities, Post-World War II

Reading  and discussion of conference papers.

Please pre register at http://www.umass.edu/history/postww2sexualities/

4/23    No Class.

4/24    Attend North American Sexualities, Post-World War II Conference

4/30    Student Presentations/ Student suggested topic

5/7      Student Presentations/ Student suggested topic