Online Seminar Series
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Hi there, thanks for joining us today, and welcome to the introductory recording to the Broken Futures Seminar Series
The Broken Futures Project is a community-based research project that trains volunteers in archival and genealogical research to locate historical individuals accused of same-sex sex under Gross Indecency, Buggery and Indecent Assaults laws between 1861-1967 in Berkshire.
The project is delivered by Support U, the LGBT+ support and wellbeing charity in the Thames Valley and was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2019 to investigate sex between men in criminal archival records. The team is made up of Amy and George.
Our History Group, with 15 volunteers, has donated over 163 hours over the past year to recover this history from criminal records held at the Berkshire Record Office, and in covid times, the online records of the National Archives. The research has opened up many questions around queer heritage and specifically around the recollection of people’s lives from their criminal to genealogical records.
We’re lucky enough to have some great project partners in the Berkshire Record Office, University of Reading, Reading Museum, and the Museum of English Rural Life, so in these podcasts, we’ll be asking experts about the way in which this research can be done and to provide contextual information about the experiences of the individuals we’ve found. We’ll be speaking to the archivist who holds the records, academics specialising in the history of same-sex sex and gender identity, as well as community volunteers who have helped us with the research.
We’ll be releasing podcasts every week. If you’d like to learn or research more, we have museum exhibitions, a walking tour and a toolkit available from Monday 19th April.
All feedback and thoughts are welcome, and if you’d like to ask any question or be involved in the project, please do get in touch at email@example.com or 0118 321 9111 and press 2 for heritage!
Thanks, and see you soon!
Peter Stoneley, Amy Hitchings
Thank you so much for joining us, Peter. And so, just to introduce our speaker today, we have Peter, who is Professor Emeritus of English Literature at the University of Reading. He has published books and essays on US literature, queer studies, and Oscar Wilde and dance. And he was also the co-lead on a HLF funded project, Oscar Wilde and Reading Gaol, which ran between 2014 and 2015. So we’re delighted to welcome Peter to the Broken Futures seminar series. Thank you so much for joining me today. And I wondered, Peter, if you could just start by telling us a little bit more about your research and your background within the university.
Sure, it’s a pleasure to be here. I taught mainly US literature, at Reading and other universities in my career. Increasingly, I wanted to work on queer projects. And I wrote a book – a book called The Queer History of the Ballet, because ballet always struck me as having a very strong connection with gay subcultures. And there was no book on it. So although I wasn’t a dance scholar, I ended up writing the book that I couldn’t find to read. And then I followed that on with focusing less on US literature and more on gay studies, queer culture, that sort of thing. And at the moment, I’m writing short history of Reading Gaol for Two Rivers Press.
Wow, that sounds amazing. And definitely something that is probably quite contemporary and relevant with the Reading Gaol -. Yes. And with this project to the Broken Futures project, and well, leading on from that, could you tell us a little bit more about the HLF funded project that you worked on? In 2014 to 15, which was titled Oscar Wilde and the Reading Gaol? What were your main, kind of, project findings?
Sure, Oscar Wilde, after his release from jail, he wrote in letters to friends how important the other prisoners were to him, how how much he was aware of them, and how he felt supported by them. And it struck me that we didn’t really know much about those people. And no one had really taken Wilde seriously when he had made these comments. So I spent several months looking through the prison archives, in the Berkshire Record Office, and tried to find out who these people were, what kind of people – what, what sentences they were serving, what their backgrounds were, what their levels of education were – trying to work out also, what the culture of the prison was, that Wilde felt that those around him was so important to him. And I felt that certainly in – Wilde scholars had never really done that work. And I felt that it gave us a fuller picture of Wilde himself, but also it gave us wonderful little insights into Reading in the 1890s. The main findings: I think a lot of them are what you would expect to find of a late 19th century prison. So for instance, Reading was a local prison, it was the county jail. And so people that tended to be serving short sentences for minor offences like theft, drunk and disorderly, vagrancy, things like that, occasionally sexual offences, and also people who were convicted of capital crimes. So basically, Reading was taking in minor criminals, and people who were going to be hanged. And not the sort of people who would be considered more serious long-term criminals. They, for much of the 19th century were still being transported weren’t they. So what you find is that first of all, the educational levels are very low. For the period that I was looking at basically the mid 90s, early to mid 90s. Oscar Wilde was the only clearly middle-class university-educated prisoner that I could find in Reading. Most of the rest were labourers, painters, very low-skilled jobs, and they were often iliterate or barely literate, because the prison records tell us whether they could read or write or both. So there was that – and I suppose sexual offences: yes. It was interesting to compare the sexual offences of the other prisoners with someone like Oscar Wilde because Reading Gaol was basically catering for small towns and villages and, you know, a place like Reading, it wasn’t London. So the sexual offences that I found the same-sex ones. As far as I could make out there were very sort of opportunistic moments of, you know, taking place in the fields, or, you know, in in someone’s room somewhere. Whereas Oscar Wilde, obviously, he was part of a very erudite upper middle-class, queer culture in London, and his sexual activity was often involving a class of young men who were prostituting themselves. So although the convictions were the same, the experiences that led to the convictions were gulfs apart.
Definitely, that’s definitely something that we’ve seen echoed definitely in the Broken Futures project, especially in terms of – well, given that we’ve opened up those prison archives that I think you will have opened around Wilde’s date of conviction, we see that there are instances as you move towards, like 1900s where you start to see different types of people being charged. So we do have people that may be middle-class, or have Oxford or you know, Cambridge education. But again, there is a clear difference, as you say, behind the experiences that each individual has with – under those charges. And we’ve used kind of a blanket search approach where we’ve taken gross indecency or buggery, and then flicked through the calendars and tried to find them. And then from there, we’ve used genealogical and newspaper research to kind of understand a bit more. And what’s definitely shown us is that each crime, even though it’s charged under the same thing, has completely separate facts, completely separate, you know, experiences, and then different kinds of things that are affecting that person’s experience of the criminal justice system. Definitely.
One thing that struck me is that as far as like trace, of the people that I’ve found – they tended to be – have one conviction for same-sex offences, even where they might be then convicted over and over again for other things like like larceny, or, or whatever, I didn’t encounter any examples of someone being sentenced more than once for a same-sex offence. Was that your experience?
We have found people sentenced for more than one offences, and particularly, I’m thinking of one individual, particularly who will be featured in our exhibition, which will be able to see online, who has four convictions in different places, working as an insurance agent, he’s travelling a lot, so – So first convection is 1893, off the top of my head, then one towards the end of the 1900s, 1903. And then in 1914, he’s acquitted of an offence. So, you know, again, that’s quite interesting that we have acquittals and then, you know, kind of conviction. So it’s not as if they are convicting a kind of, sort of person or type of person, but on the basis of evidence within that offence actually having occurred. And so that was quite interesting for us. One of the interesting things that we found from the Reading Prison registers was that there was a large amount of military offences for indecent conduct or disgraceful conduct. And I actually did a bit of searching about these terms to try and find them within like military codes or army codes, and there wasn’t anything but what we did find was a court martial, which reported ‘indecent conduct in bed with a comrade’. So that kind of, hmm, so quite an interesting –
What period is he? And when was that?
That’s in 1893. So he then moves into the jail, just before Oscar’s in there, and then obviously leaves just as Oscar’s entering, and one of the interesting things that we did find was the the case of somebody actually being taken out of the prison two months before Oscar enters the prison, and he has a conviction for same-sex sex. So what might be interesting is if there’s something going on there about, you know, removing him from the prison whilst Oscar’s in there.
I think that’s really interesting, because I’ve wondered if I had been seeing that when I was looking at the records. It seemed as though people were getting remission. Just as Oscar Wilde was
entering Reading Gaol and obviously, he’s in correct me. I’m just, there’s two prisons that he goes to before, is it Pentonville then Wandsworth?
I think well he was sent to Newgate over the weekend just to a holding cell, and then he went to Wandsworth. Did he pass through Pentonville? I can’t remember offhand.
He might not have that might just be me getting the – I’ve got so many Victorian prisons in my head! All the names confusing. But yes, it was quite – it’s quite interesting that he’s, he’s, you know, obviously – they’re aware that he’s going to Reading they’re appealing that they want him to move to Reading. And then around the time there’s then remissions happening very quickly. I did see that too. And it does beg the question, obviously, we can never know for sure what that reasoning was. But yeah, begs the question that you have quite a celebrity case moving into the jail.
And wasn’t I think Oscar Wilde, one of his – the men that he befriended in prison, and who visited him afterwards in France. Was the case like that someone who obviously got drunk and let rip in the barracks? I think Wilde says that this man definitely wasn’t homosexual. He he makes that discrimination himself.
it’s really, it’s interesting, isn’t it, the things that we can find, and then the – kind of the the researcher lens of us reading it. And, you know, hearing that you’ve found that too, it’s quite, it’s quite, it’s quite a sharing thing, isn’t it that we’ve both gone into those records and found those different things within it and the ties that you can find in that. So The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Wilde obviously outlines the need for people to look beyond Wilde himself into the others in prison, and the importance of ordinary people. And our projects obviously looked at people that are convicted of same-sex sex within Berkshire, and we found indications that class may have actually paid some, you know, kind of support in a plea of not guilty under character witnesses. And I just thought I would ask the question, what went wrong for a Wilde?
I think the class issue is a really interesting one. I mean, the fact is that the first trial did not convict and he was retried, so he nearly got off with it. To be clear, the first trial was when he sued Queensberry for libel. And he abandoned that trial, when he began to see the evidence that was going to be presented against him. The evidence was considerable. And, you know, there were various kinds of evidence: letters that Wilde himself had written, statements from youths who claimed to have been hired by Wilde. And yet still, the jury didn’t quite convict him first time around. And I wonder if class was an element there, you know, this idea that this highly educated man, a married man, a man with children, how could he really be behaving like this? Was there some kind of protection there? I think we all know that he made dreadful mistakes in not taking Queensberry seriously as an opponent. And even within the trial, he made an off the cuff remark that damaged his case very badly, when he was asked if he kissed a particular youth, and said that, of course he didn’t, because the youth was very plain.
So it’s, it’s a really unhappy story. However, you look at it. What struck me also about class, and you will have seen this is that Wilde did not get remission, whereas as far as I could see, most other people did.
And that’s the same finding that we’ve had too. That – and obviously, we’re looking particularly at same-sex offences between 1861 to 1920. And we found the same too – that, in most cases, there is a remission. You know, I think there may be something, obviously, we don’t have these records, but there may be something in terms of disciplinary that might have been happening within the prison that might affect obviously a person’s remission at the end. But it does look as if Oscar is not one of the only ones, but one of the ones that has to serve his entire sentence. And, and I think it’s quite interesting, isn’t it that the comparisons between that – the need maybe to kind of put Oscar on this pedestal and to say that if you – if you convict this you will serve your time and it will be serious and you will have to face the consequences of your behaviour.
Class playing against Wilde may have come in, in the sense that he was highly educated he, although he he often had debts, he lived a very comfortable life. He was married, he had children and the charges against him. The evidence against him was of a series, quite an extensive series of offences. Whereas if you were a brickfield labourer, who on one occasion, was accused of sexual assault on another labourer, that might seem like a case that was less ingrained to the people who were making those judgments and less worthy of, of the maximum sentence.
Definitely, definitely. And I think that’s very clear when we when we can compare them, you know, to the kind of people that we found within the research. So I’m thinking of a particular case where we have an individual – this is an offence on minors. So that’s a, you know, need to clarify – that this individual is a schoolmaster of a very high profile school in Berkshire. And he is basically in the town, and he’s seen by a police officer in a field with numerous different boys, and basically handing over some money. And the police officer watches this whole thing. And then in the court, in the newspapers, we read that basically what happened was during the hearing, the police officer provided the evidence of what he’d seen. And then at the end of it, they then invited character witnesses on behalf of this individual, despite this, police officer’s, obviously corroborating evidence, and the boys’ evidence too and the character witness said, you know, this, this is a great person, this person is of this character has this status, you know, he is a teacher, and, you know, would never be in part of this behaviour. And he’s acquitted. And it’s quite interesting, even in the cases, as you say, where evidence is kind of available –
Potentially, if that evidence may be had any form of doubt, or any, anything around it likely to be overturned, and then seen, you know, was the class being the kind of elevating factor that gives them their innocence? What do you think to that case?
Well, it’s very interesting. And it’s – I think there were other cases in London that were similar, where, you know, if you were a retired general of, thought to be of, impeccable character, it didn’t matter what the evidence was. The case with Wilde that – the twist with Wilde that was really curious is that the prosecution made the case: what was a man like Oscar Wilde doing with lower class boys? He could not have any possible relationship with them other than a suspicious one. And Oscar Wilde, you know, he would say that he didn’t base his friendships solely on people of his own class. But the prosecutors obviously thought, a social meeting between a man of Wilde’s status and the youths just was unthinkable, unless it was prostitution. And I think that probably told very strongly against him. So again, yes, that sense of class, working in different ways in different – at different moments.
Definitely – it reminds me of a case that we have with an individual called Francis, who is a curate, and is also charged for buggery and gross indecency with a particular individual who is also charged alongside him called John. So they’re both charged. And he’s also charged with other offences that are on minors, and he’s a curate in Ascot at the time. The only information that we have from a newspaper trail is that a young boy was reading a story with him in the church and thought it was inappropriate – the behaviour. But what we have in terms of John and Francis is an individual witness who owns the house where Francis is living in Ascot, and actually puts a ladder up the side of the building to climb up the building and peer through the Venetian blinds to see Francis and John in bed. And obviously, when this doesn’t work, because Francis has closed the blinds, he can’t see. So he thinks, oh what what can I do to actually find out? So instead, he drills a hole in the ceiling above. And it’s all written in the newspaper, and actually peers through when they come home after a church dance. And then in the morning, says to him, I’ve seen what’s happened, and John leaves wearing Francis’s clothes and shoes. And what’s quite interesting, then, is that private actor’s role in actually finding that evidence. And if you think about a curate, and the kind of level of class that would be around that individual – being Oxford educated, and then this trial is then in newspapers across the UK, you can find them in Ireland, too. So I think you’re right, that that if there’s a large amount of evidence that is so damning, potentially, that class is then used as kind of, you know, to secure your downfall. It’s the reason why, you know, and use your offences as a kind of warning to others. But then in other instances, the class then can actually become something that, you know, as we see in Oscar’s first trial, and in other people’s it actually something that elevates your ability to be seen maybe a little bit differently within the courts. Yeah, very interesting. So in terms of our research, we’ve relied on obviously prison registers that Her Majesty’s Prison Reading, which you’ll have obviously looked at in the project that you did. Do you think it’s important to restore Reading Gaol as a site of queer heritage? And is it necessary to preserve historical buildings like jails, and as we know, might have been a site of punishment and misery for others – and for people that have served their time there. Do you think there’s an importance there, given Banksy and Kate Winslet this week?
Yes. How do you remember the past? I wonder what Oscar Wilde would have wanted done with that building, I suspect he would want it to be razed to the ground. I think he would want it to be demolished. But I think it’s important that we do remember our social history. And I think buildings are a wonderful way of doing that. I think there can be a kind of a voyeurism, in visiting places of misery as you put it, and I think, you know, you, I think that’s what you were angling at there. And I definitely agree with you. And I went around the prison a couple of times when it was still a young offenders institute. And I’ve been around a few times since. And it’s a very powerful experience, I myself think that we want to remember things in a transformational way. So that it may be that you decide that something is of such historical importance that it has to be preserved intact with nothing being changed. That moment has passed with this building, because it has been changed a lot over the years. But still, there are elements of it that I just would hate to see destroyed. But I can imagine, and a lot of people in Redding have been imagining ways of transforming that building so it is still an authentic historical site but it’s also reinvented in a way that preserves and also moves beyond what used to happen there. So that’s the way I see it, as someone who’s interested in in the past, I’ve always secretly thought that it’s a good thing that it’s mothballed because then it doesn’t get changed. But that’s not actually the case, something that gets mothballed gradually deteriorates, and then it gets knocked down. I’ve noticed in some of the designs that have been floated around for changing the prison, that they are really wonderful, they preserve some of the key buildings, but they make the space open for reinvention and reuse. So I think it can be both – I don’t think it’s an either or. And yeah, that’s, that’s what I would love to see, I would worry about it becoming a white elephant. But I get the feeling that the people in Reading really do want to see something interesting and creative happen with that site.
I completely agree with you, Peter, I completely agree. So Broken Futures is actually ran by the charity Support U. Support U is the LGBT support and wellbeing charity for the Thames Valley. One of the things that we found is that these sites can become something that is so important for people’s belonging today, and you know, the belonging that we have within our town and spaces. And one of the things that really struck me, I don’t know if you found this, but when we were going through the prison archives, with the kind of mental health – the suicide reports of people, you know, being put in prison, there are reports of women who, you know, have had situations with their pregnancies or you know, may have aborted their childs – like, those those stories were so harrowing, and quite, you know, kind of really made a mark on me from that. And I think with that site, we can we can use it instead of kind of elevating the need for a discussion around mental health and actually kind of rewrite those wrongs that have happened previously. And, you know, being a support and mental health charity, we are obviously very much advocates for talking about these things and what better site to do it in then in somewhere where you know, that things have changed, and things are different. And you’re given a space to actually have your own voice. So yeah.
I noticed it especially with the visiting committee minutes, where they are deciding punishments and what should be done with people and the number of times you read the note sent to Moulsford – Moulsford was the asylum. It’s really chilling and the fact that these people were imprisoned and often beaten before it was decided that they were ill and had mental health problems. It’s it’s it’s grim reading, it really is.
It really is. I remember reading a newspaper a couple of weeks ago, where above was a case of same-sex, sex. And below was a case of an individual sentenced to time in the prison for having tried to commit suicide. And during his time in prison, they’re writing that he’s tried to commit suicide again in prison. And they were like, well, what we’ll do is we’ll put them in solitary confinement for 48 hours and of course, that will make him you know, able to see his life in a different sense, and he’ll come out of there and be totally fine, and go back to everything – and that kind of blasé approach to serious serious things that will have you know, maybe harrowed that person is is quite an amazing thing that you can potentially rewrite those wrongs within, you know, the Reading Gaol. And it’s a fantastic building. It’s a great site. And, you know, Ihaven’t actually been into the jail. I came to Reading in 2016 when I started my university degree here, so I, I missed that time when the – was it Artangel did –
the event there. And so I didn’t miss that, unfortunately. But I would love to go back, I’m going to go.
Well hopefully we’ll all get chance to go back. And yes, it is a really interesting building, even though some of the original features were taken down in, in the late 60s, you know, the, the the most spectacular architectural elements were the the gatehouse and the chaplain and the governor’s residence on either side of the gatehouse, and they were stripped out when the the new wall and gatehouse was put in, I think, in 68, or 69. But it’s still a very interesting building. And I guess, you know, you mentioned Banksy, I think what he has done is an example itself of, of how you can transform the meaning of something, I always looked at that wall and thought that is so high, and saw the razor wire at the top. It’s such a bleak statement. It’s such a bleak social declaration, and he just – over one night puts this clever mural in there. And it, the feel of it is changed.
Totally changed. And after having going through those prison records, and actually seeing those prison registers, and then seeing those pictures of the people outside of the jail, and having more of that kind of context about what actually happened in that jail, it, it gives you so much more kind of – it gives me hope that potentially, you know, this site is going to be able to be used as something for the community and and it benefit them. Definitely. Yeah, completely agree. And so – next question. So what role do you think archives and record offices have to diversify the historical narratives that they hold?
Obviously, record offices have statutory requirements, they have to preserve certain kinds of records. But I get the feeling that they are very interested in helping local communities understand the relevance of their collections. I mean, you’ve worked with Mark Stevens, who’s wonderful at opening up the things that are in, in the record office and explaining, you know, how to go about pursuing a particular topic. Most of the people that go to the record office are doing family history for the most part. But I think – I think that they, they can play a significant role. In fact, I think that they probably already do. Yeah, it’d be interesting to see how archives evolve in that one assumes that an awful lot of electronic archives are now in existence. And that whole business of how to build an archive has changed. And I think what I really like about the present moment is that – I think increasingly, people, both just individuals in the community, and also, academics like me, who work on these things have an increasing sense that they can interestingly and valuably archive their own lives, I have a colleague at Reading – the historian who works on punk. And a lot of his work was based on people’s individual collections that when they were in their late teens, and those people, they just stick fanzines and, and t-shirts in a box and put them in the attic. And that is an archive. And sooner or later, someone like this very brilliant historian will come along and say, there’s a really interesting story in this. Let me borrow your archive. So I really like that – I really like the sense that archives are not just things that you encounter in record offices or in university libraries. And the ones that are outside of those institutions are often just as important and as powerful.
Definitely. And that’s something will definitely come out of the Broken Futures exhibition given that we have all of our research and obviously, Support U have done two previous projects, they’ve done one on hidden voices with people from the 80s and 90s that were LGBT in Reading, and another on Wolfenden – and from that we have some great audio tracks and soundbites of people actually discussing their histories. I mean, as you say, you know, record offices hold those statutory records, but there are other places that hold their own types of archives – and in the podcast we did – we recorded last week with Mark, he mentioned about charities and it all the sudden kind of clicked that Support U would obviously be archiving our material too. So, yeah, I think you’re so right the, the the kind of approach to archives and the different forms of archives that we’re seeing today. Very different. And I think especially given, I saw with this on the Berkshire Record Office’s twitter, they were doing COVID archives, and actually how to archive the experiences of people through the COVID pandemic, and in such a interesting way. So yeah, I think it’s very, very interesting. But it’s been a fantastic project. And I think the main part of the project, which has been probably the legacy is actually having a community-based research group, you know, go back into that archive and reclaim that space and find these lives within it. And it’s definitely brought up some questions and considerations for future research, I’m sure.
One thing that strikes me as you were talking there is – MERL is a great space, but it’s mainly English rural life. That would be another possibility, if the, if the prison gets reinvented, is exhibition space, and not just for, for us in the LBGT+ community, but you know, all kinds of communities that we now have in Reading, that, that maybe could use a space to memorialise and to celebrate their lives.
I know the MERL are doing a lot of work at the moment of, you know, trying to actually cover what is – what isn’t just stereotypically rural history and hence the the featuring of our project on the exhibition website. But I think you’re so right – there’s a there’s a need for a space to actually hold these stories and to hear different parts of the community. You know, we work very much across all communities that have people that are LGBT, so having that space – one of the – I’ve heard talks about it potentially being like a cafe and having a theatre and, you know, maybe even having like space for like a community meeting zone and all that. So it certainly sounds fantastic. Wow. Peter, lovely to meet you.
And thank you so much for joining the podcast.
Thank you so much, Amy.
Dan Vo, Amy Hitchings
So just as a initial question, Dan, what got you interested in queer history? Can you tell us a little bit more about your background?
Thanks, Amy. I so I started off in media. And for me, when I was working at a gay and lesbian radio station, as we called ourselves back then – it’s now on LGBTQIA+ radio station. It’s called JOY 94.9 – it’s Melbourne, you might pick the Aussie accent as I talk. Now, I think for me when we were at that radio station, and we had like, this massive grid that we had to fill – it was 24/7. So it ran it every, every day of the week. And so what we did was we kind of cut up this, this massive grid into different voices, different stories, different parts of the community that we wanted to share stories from. And so I think that’s what got me into the history aspect of it. Because we were looking at the different ways in which the community was composed, and sort of wondering, well, how did we kind of get to this particular, particular way? And how do we find the words that we call ourselves now? And how did the community communicate with each other? So you know, we were around in the mid 90s, through to – the organisation still exists: the radio station’s still there. But we were there in the mid 90s. And you know, that was pre-internet days, for those listening who can’t even conceive of that’s – of such a thing! But it became a really important way for people to connect with each other. And so it was just kind of like working through history and kind of working out exactly how the community or communities exist in different times, and times and spaces and, and how, what it meant for them and how it was possible for them to actually get together and have fun. So I think that’s what really got me interested in queer history.
And in terms of – in terms of the things that you’re currently working on at the moment, are there any kind of projects that you’re working on right now, that’s taken that further?
I think, for me, was being able to take that methodology of being able to hold a big space, a big broadcasting mechanism, a big megaphone, if you will, and sort of saying, why don’t you take that for a bit and use your voice and kind of tell your story? And for me, I think that’s the thing in museums, that is a very common practice now. It is something that’s very important to museums and to, you know, those working in heritage like yourself, where you kind of go: well where do, where do the voices? Where are the voices that we want to engage with and have have speak, you know? Whose stories? We want to tell the stories. And how do we get the people whose stories we want to hear? And we get them to tell the story? So I think – is that something that sort of you can connect with in terms of sort of saying, here’s the megaphone, why don’t you talk for a bit?
Definitely, definitely. And kind of amplifying the different types of stories that we hear and the voices that then come out of it and giving you know, accessible ways for different stories and voices to actually be heard through the sources I think is really important. Definitely. Touching on that, as you’ll know. So the Broken Futures project, has investigated the historical stories around prosecutions for same-sex sex in Berkshire between 1861 to 1967. And this has produced quite a lot of questions, as I’m sure you can imagine, and considerations around queer history. And I thought, this leads us quite nicely on to this, regarding the fact that we’ve relied on prison registers from Her Majesty’s Prison Reading. So do you think it’s important to restore Reading Gaol? You know, aside from the stories and voices as a site of queer heritage? And is it necessary to preserve historical buildings like jails, which might have been seen as a site of punishment and misery for those who were in prison there? Is there – is there something that we can do with the site as as queer heritage to kind of amplify the voices and stories that obviously are heard within this place? And given that we now have a Banksy on the jail, it seems quite a topical conversation.
I’m so glad you mentioned the Banksy. Amy do you want to quickly describe the Banksy?
Very big isn’t – it’s about halfway up the jail walls. And at the bottom, you can see an individual with a kind of prison convict outfit on looking down as if they’re escaping with with bits of paper running down out of a typewriter. So you know, some have said that it might be a kind of a nod to Oscar Wilde. And his time in Reading Gaol. Would there be anything that you would add, Dan?
Well, I think that’s the thing that you noted that’s really interesting is that typewriter with that massive ream of paper. What sort of – it’s a – it’s a bit of an illusion, isn’t it? Because at the top, it’s sort of like your, you expect to see lengths of material that have been knotted together. You know, it’s a very typical kind of image that we see in film all the time when people try to escape through bars, right and using those knotted up bits of fabric and then and then at the end, it starts to unravel and becomes this like, continuous stream where it’s got little little notes across. You can’t actually, you know, there’s no actual text. So yeah, you’re right. It’s up to us to imagine what’s being written on that. Exactly. But I find it – Yeah, I find it – for me, it was definitely that connection to Oscar Wilde and the Ballad of Reading Gaol, and that’s probably one of the most important pieces of literary art that has come from Reading Gaol, you know, the Ballad of Reading Gaol was something that I think – there was the Artangel group that actually went back in there and used the space as as a performance space and said: here is the jail. Come and and see some of the best artists of our time. You know, we had I think those Patti Smith, Ben Whishaw, Rupert Everett, all reading from the Ballard of Reading Gaol. And I think that was really poignant – to kind of take that space that as you’re absolutely right, that here was where Oscar Wilde kind of traced out those steps across his little cell and kind of was, you know, thinking through all that, the heartbreak and the betrayal, and here he was, you know, sort of fallen from grace. And I think there’s a line from it, which was to say that, you know, point to Reading Gaol and say: there is where the artistic life leads a man. And I think that’s, that’s a really interesting kind of thing to explore. And I would like to, I didn’t get to go see this. And I’d love to be able to go see this, because it would provide me with this really strong connection to Oscar Wilde and to his thoughts at that time. And, you know, it’s, it’s, it is a remarkable space. Have you have you been inside it?
So I actually haven’t been in the jail. So I came to Reading in 2016, for the first year of my law degree. So I think it was actually a couple of months after Artangel had actually been in the space and did that event. Just for the people listening, you can actually view what happened during Artangel’s time at Reading Gaol. on YouTube, there are some videoed documentaries that you can find of Rupert Everett reading The Ballad, I think there’s also another one of somebody’s reading out a letter from Oscar to Bosie. So there is content if somebody would like to watch it. But yeah, I think I definitely agree with you completely, Dan. And I think as well, from Oscar, we can draw that, you know, kind of line about the ordinary people that would have been within that jail. And I know, you know, just from my readings of Oscar, there’s a there’s a big attention to be paid against everyone else that’s experiencing this alongside him in the prison. So, you know, yeah, I completely agree. Yes, it does definitely allow you to elude and kind of find your own kind of authenticity and in Reading Gaol, definitely.
The door for the jail, prison cell. And you know, it’s debatable, because I don’t think we know exactly which cell – it’s one of two cells, right. But there’s a big yellow door, and on display at the queer British art exhibition alongside, and I thought this was a very, very clever move, it was sort of a pendant, to a massive painting of Oscar Wilde. So you know, opulent lush painting alongside and, and sort of opposite, that was the door. And they’re roughly around about the same height and same width, which is remarkable. And to sort of think this is, you know, the rise and fall, you know, this is the glory and the fall of Oscar Wilde. And so that’s part of the reason why I’d like to see that space as well, because for me, it’s sort of I’ve seen the door, and I’ve seen, I was just utterly moved by, by that, you know, by by seeing that there and, and there was a little card as well, you know, the card that ultimately brings his downfall – the card that was left behind by by Bosie’s dad that provoked Oscar to take him to court. And I think it’s, I think it’s part of the Nottingham justice museum. Is that right?
I don’t know where it currently is. No, I’m not sure. Maybe that’s one to have a look at. Yeah.
But I think it could be something in bringing the two back together as well. And the question of why we would do that, I suppose is: it teaches us quite a bit, doesn’t it? Because I think when you we work with young people, for example, they’re almost aghast sometimes when you kind of go, you know, that was illegal at some point in time to actually be homosexual. They go: what?! You know, two men, two women couldn’t marry each other. And, you know, the laws have changed, but for them, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s bonkers, that that there was a time like that, but it does serve as a reminder because, you know, we would have grown up I didn’t grow up under in Britain at the time, but you know, our rough time dates kind of place us in the middle of Section 28 which was a time when it was impossible to talk about in schools – talk about homosexuality, you know, you couldn’t “promote”, in quotation marks, homosexuality – and and so I think there’s, you know, there is these gaps in, in our generational knowledge of own queer history. And I think these artefacts, these spaces, are really powerful reminders of, of what it was like, what the ultimate penalty was, and, and how much it would have caused a lot of pain to Oscar Wilde in this place as well. And it’s not necessarily to go there in order to kind of, you know, experience it as a touristic way but to actually go there and and, and just completely be in the shoes of Oscar Wilde for just a moment, I think is what I would like to kind of be able to do. And I think that’s why the space – I’d love it to be turned into a space like, you know, an artistic space where we can have things that allow us to explore these, these ideas and concepts of why exactly do we place people in, in places like Reading Gaol? I think there was also some Artangel artists who also had work exhibited as well, isn’t there, Amy?
Yes, yes, there was, I think, again, I think that’s available online too – there were some fantastic pieces of work out of it. And I think you’re right, it’s that it’s that immersive element, isn’t it within these spaces, I think you can get the feeling of knowing that you’re in the space where these people would have been and, and kind of, you know, drawing lines within your own experiences with other people’s too definitely. And I think that leads us quite nicely on to my next question for you, Dan. So in terms of obviously, the kind of people that would have been in these prisons, so what role do you think that archives and record offices have to diversify the historical narratives they hold, and the kind of stories that they then, you know, kind of, raise out of those narratives?
I mean, I think our history is, is written in a particular way. And, and by that, I mean, it’s written in a legal way, most of the times, you know, in order to find stories of, of people who were what we would say, now are LGBTQIA+, I think that there are our stories in these archives. So, you know, I, I generally think about places like, for example, the National Archives, or I might think of the collections that are held by the Old Bailey, for example. And they’re really useful because it, it gives us a historical viewpoint, you know, you’ve got census, you’ve got the census, you’ve got things like court cases, that that point to what would be people that we might say, would be part of the LGBTQIA+ community. But that’s the thing as well, because it’s recorded via the law, or via, you know, a government department, it is a very skewed view, it’s, you know, usually, you know, you you are reading about a person through a court case, so, you are going only going to get a particular viewpoint, and rarely will you kind of, you know, they will, they will speak, and those things are recorded, but it’s very different to, say, an intimate letter that is written by somebody and, and that is the thing that tells us that they had same-sex desire, and they had same-sex loves. And so I think that’s the thing the archives have so important, because it gives us a – it helps us understand that, you know, the idea that LGBTQIA+ people, however you want to call us, we’ve existed across place, time and culture. And so you can find examples of it in the Georgian era, you can find examples prior to that, but, you know, the Old Bailey, I usually sort of stick with the 18th 19th century. So you can see that, that there are people there who are exploring ideas of gender, sexuality, and, and in some ways, being non-conforming. And I suppose they are being non-comforming. Because that’s what gets them into trouble. And that’s what gets them picked up and put into prison. But I think that’s the great tragedy, isn’t it, that we can’t always see it in their own hand, in a moment of joy. And they can’t reach out to us and share with us what, what made them happy. And they – and I, and that’s part of the thing that I think that, say, when I was looking into Georgian London, molly houses, for example. We’ve got the court cases for it – the Old Bailey’s there. And then Rictor Norton is a wonderful researcher who has gone through and actually pulled out, you know, incredible cases for us to kind of look at, and we can read through and kind of start to paint a picture, a profile of each of the people that were that were in court. And then it’s the work of artists, you know, so Mark Ravenhill, the playwright actually worked with, took some of the work that Rictor Norton had put together and worked with some other researchers to actually create a play. And suddenly in the play, now, suddenly, it starts to fill in a lot of the gaps that are there. So, you know, beyond the legalese and beyond, you know, what’s actually in the court records, we actually start to see a person forming and their day to day life, what makes them happy and what makes them joyful and what what they’re worried about, you know, one of the scenes opens with somebody just counting money and you know, wondering whether they’ll get through to the next season. So I think that’s where I think art is a really powerful way of kind of helping us to understand the archives better, because you’re not just reading words, you’re actually trying to experience somebody else – you’re trying to feel like what someone else did.
Definitely 100%, Dan. And I think that’s definitely something that we have found within the Broken Futures project, you know, that these are state-recorded documents, and we kind of are, you know, then co-opting them for the purposes of finding these stories and lives. And, and, you know, especially in terms of the the point that you raised about the importance of art, you know, as this kind of methodology to understand our archives, and, and, you know, kind of records that are in museums, and especially the work of a project Queer Rural Connections, and I know that you’re aware of them with Tim Allsop. And, you know, they are taking some of the research that we found and some of the research that’s been found in the Suffolk project Pride in Suffolk’s Past, and they’ve basically been doing something similar to yours, but using other materials as well as just the criminal records. And Tim Allsop in the Queer Rural Connections project is putting together a show based on these narratives, to provide that artist inspired stories that come out of the research. So yeah, definitely the importance of art is kind of a mechanism to discuss these stories, and leads me quite nicely on to my next question. So obviously, within the Broken Futures project, we relied on criminal registers regarding same-sex sex prosecutions. And obviously, sex, sexual activity between males was actually the only kind of form of historically prosecuted same-sex sex. And so as a result, no women or trans people, obviously appear within the records that we’ve located, people of colour are also underrepresented. So do you think there’s more to do within heritage to make sure that our archives preserve the histories of all types of communities? And how best do you think we can achieve it?
The stories are there, I think. And I think it’s just the way that we read it, I think that we, we are in a space at the moment. And I – as historians as people who work in archives and museum collections, where we are more willing to perform an act of interpretation. And that means to kind of look at the records in the archives without a viewpoint that historically would have been very heteronormative, very, very skewed – very focused on a particular way in which you would read history, this is the authoritative way. And I think the thing is, if you approach it with a group of people who, you know, are thinking, Well, how do I bring a queer lens to history? How do I look at history and look for people like me, I think that you’ll suddenly find that there will be connections, and, you know, we can’t transpose our terms onto them now. But there is certainly ways in which we can connect with historical figures and say, Oh, actually, I can see what was happening there. And I think that’s the very much the case with some of the the the court cases that you can read, where you sort of see that there is a person who, in court has been addressed by a masculine name and in court is in masculine attire, but the thing that they’re being charged with is, wear feminine attire, there’s something there isn’t that you kind of look at and kind of go, I think that there might be – there’s, you know, there’s gender nonconforming activity going on. And there’s – an in a particular time where, you know, the gender roles in society were very strong. I’m thinking Georgian London, still at the moment where you’ve got molly houses, you know, that is a big, big sort of a flashing sign to kind of go, I think there’s something queer here, right. And I think it’s, it’s, what’s exciting to me is there’s an openness from archives and from collections to now sort of say, Okay, let’s, let’s look at this, you know, in a, in a way that is being more inclusive, you know, what can we what can we learn if we sort of not sort of consider everything with such a clear binary, I suppose, is, is one way of putting it. So, I think that, that’s what will help us to diversify our archives, because it’s just approaching it with an open mind, and a willingness to sort of allow many people to look at a particular case or a particular set of words or a particular event and sort of place their own understanding and feeling into it as well. And it is a tricky act, because I think that we are, as I’ve said, before, we’re kind of reading history in a very select way it was what was recorded, so there’s still a lot that is open to imagination, and speculation. But I think as you sort of mount a lot of the research and stack them side by side, that’s when it starts to build a bigger picture where you kind of understand that there was certainly a thriving queer community in the past and, and that included all sorts of people. And so that included people who were gender non-conforming people who were same-sex -that were – that had love for people of the same sex and people who were, you know, from different cultures, different backgrounds, you know, people of colour: black people as well, they were also in these societies and, and there was a way in which they all sort of cohabited these spaces. And they created these spaces together. And together, they sort of created a safe space for them to explore all these different things as well. I mean, to return to Oscar Wilde, he sort of wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol under the pen name C.3.3 didn’t he? And it’s sort of, you know, sometimes you’ve got to look beyond what the official designation is, in order to find the artistry or to find the life that is behind the –
what lies beneath, definitely. And the stories that lie beneath. So in terms of what you’re kind of working on at the moment. Obviously, we’ve just come out of history month, I was just wondering if, is there any kind of exciting projects that you’re working on at the moment or anything that you’d like to mention?
Well, the first thing I’d like to say is I think it’s been about just about over a year, since we actually caught up with each other face to face.
Yes, definitely. Yes. Reading Museum at the event? Yeah. Yeah. Gosh.
It’s bonkers, isn’t it? So we – Brendan Carr, who’s the curator, there invited me to come down. And one of the things that I did was a little tour, a little walk around of Reading Museum sort of pointing out all the wonderful connections to queer history that we have. And I think Brendan and the team there have been so good over the last few years of sort of collecting objects into the, into the collection that allows us to kind of make a very clear, you know, celebration of LGBTQ+ modern LGBTQ+ lives. But it was also kind of exploring historically, what is in the archives that that might open up an LGBTQ+ perspective to things as well. So so that was a lot of fun. And I don’t know if you remember, but we had a – I was invited to go into the archive, into the art collection in the back, you know, that’s usually stored away and bring out one piece. And I brought out a Peter Blake, do you remember what –
It was so exciting – I remember. I remember the big reveal as well! Wasn’t it the collage that you’d put together?
It was – do you want to describe it?
It was all of the different kind of people in Reading that, you know, had kind of LGBT connections. There were some Support U members of staff on there, which was really lovely to see. It was – it was just so beautifully put together. And it was – it was taken from – what was the piece of art that you said, Dan?
It was Peter Blake and he did a piece, a celebratory piece – for I think he’d been working for a few decades and he put together one that had a lovely rainbow behind it. And yeah, we kind of we kind of made it Reading’s own. And it was called Summer Days was his work. And so we caught it Reading Gays.
Yes, I remember. It was amazing.
In the middle of our Reading Gays poster. We have Oscar Wilde sitting on a Huntley and Palmers tin, again, another piece of Reading history, which it was Lord Wolfenden, who when he was in his committee, he was sort of saying that: well, I shouldn’t type homosexuals and prostitutes, you know that would cause blushes in the secretarial team. So I’m going to use a code to call them the Huntley and Palmers. So there’s, there’s that direct link to Reading. But I think the wonderful thing about being able to put so many local Reading people into that poster was also reappropriating, some of the design that Peter Blake had and sort of placing, for example, instead of having stars scattered all around everybody, we had little, little roundels with all the different flags that represent all the different – you know, we had the trans pride flag, we had the pansexual flag, for example. And so that was – that was fun as well. And I think one of the exciting things for me is since then, we have launched the Queer Heritage and Collections Network. And we have some good news, don’t we as well in terms of membership because we’ve got about 60 organisations all across the country who want to participate plus one more now.
That is amazing. Dan, that is absolutely amazing. 60 across the whole of the UK was that?
Yeah 60 wanting to engage in LGBTQ+ history and heritage, and the partnership is formed with the National Trust, Historic Royal Palaces, Historic England, English Heritage, the research-centred museums and galleries based at the University of Leicester. So really, five strong partners supported by Art Fund. So we thank Art Fund for their support. But do you want to tell me who that extra bonus member is – as of today?
It will be the Berkshire Record Office! And just for the people listening, so the Berkshire Record Office have been a major, a major partner for the Broken Futures project in providing us access to their crime and punishment archives, and obviously, the main sources for the research. So yes, it’s fantastic that they’ll be joining the Queer Heritage and Collections Network. Brilliant.
Amazing to have you with us. Can I flip this very quickly? I’d love to ask you a question, which is to say, out of Berkshire Records Archive, what is a story that you found while you’ve been working on this that has struck you and stayed with you?
So Dan, that’s actually a really, really good question. And one particular story is the one that I found a couple of weeks ago, and this is quite a new find that we’ve located and I’ve been doing some research in terms of different terms that would have appeared in the newspapers. So maybe like female impersonator, homosexual at different parts of -kind of different years between 1861 to 1967. And I found in 1969, the story of an individual called Louise, and this individual is potentially a person that we may use terminology like transgender for – speaking about her story coming out, and actually having an operation and things like that to, kind of, live authentically as herself in 1969. And it was an incredible story to find – one that’s really touched me. And in it, she discusses, you know, wanting there to be an organisation for people to go to, to talk to. And obviously, given that we work at Support U, which is a mental health and support and wellbeing charity for LGBT people. It really did kind of understand, you know, the reasons why we do our jobs and the things that we, you know, see within this research that can really resonate with us. Definitely, that was quite a – quite a story that we located. One of the issues that we’ve had with this research, obviously is the sex, same-sex sex was criminalised alongside sex with animals, sex with children, and, you know, indecent assaults and things like that. So part of our research has been having to, you know, clarify and work through the resources to try and find the stories that have consensual same-sex sex and, and for instances of consensual same-sex sex, where we can find stories, you know, one of the most harrowing thing things is where they, they end up in the docks together. And you can imagine that experience of an individual being in the dock next to somebody that you shared, probably an intimate moment with, and in that having to then share all to a – to a court. It’s highly degrading. So you know to kind of put yourself in those shoes of what it would be like, if you were with a partner, has always – has always quite resonated with me to actually have that, you know, need to bear all in front of the public. And so yeah, I think those are the stories that definitely resonated with me and will sit with me from the research, definitely, how do you feel about these stories?
It’s another exhibition that I didn’t get to experience, but it does remind me of the one that was held by the National Trust for Prejudice and Pride at the home of – Kingston Lacy, which was the home of William Bankes. And there were three researchers: Julie Howell, Richard Sandell, and Tom Butler, who put together a very, very moving art installation, which was to walk through the front door, you had to walk through some lengths of rope. And the lengths of rope represented, the length of it represented the age and it was knotted, actually, so where the knot was – to where the knot on the rope was represented the age of the person when they were executed for sodomy. And it’s just a really striking image that they put out to press, you know, with a person standing there just looking up at the knots and the age range was was vast, it was sort of from 17, to somebody who was probably 97. I think, you know, that’s, that’s the thing. It’s just, it’s across class, it was across ages, it was across generations. And, oh, boy, it’s, you know, we are living in a society now, where, as of 67, we did decriminalise homosexuality in England and Wales, but there’s still lots of challenges that we’re faced with in this country. And there’s still lots of challenges that we’re faced with all around the world. And I think that for me, I am very privileged and lucky to be working with an organisation called GiveOut, which sort of directly funds the work of activists on the ground in lots of countries around the world where they’re trying to fight for law reform to change the laws there because there’s connection to empire as well. They were former – Commonwealth countries and so there is – the sodomy law that went from Britain all around the world, they’ve still, they still have that section in the legal system. And so there are activists all around the world who are seeking to change it in their home turf as well. And I think that, for me to sort of be able to have a chat with them occasionally on a podcast as well, you know, it’s just, it’s sobering. It’s, it’s so – such an honour to speak with them, and to sort of see what they’re they’re trying to do to grapple with this law that impacted people, not just here, but all around the world and continued through to this day to impact people as well. But that’s the thing, right? The hope that it will change, it did change here. And the punishment here was brutal. But it did change society changed, the way that society felt about LGBTQIA+ people changed. And we feel that that’s the same thing that we can do all around the world as well and led by the activists on the ground in those countries. And so I think that these are hard reminders of what was before. And we’ve still got lots of challenges that we have to deal with now, but it is a little better. And I think that it’s a good reminder that it can be the case in other places as well.
Definitely. Thank you for sharing that. And just you mentioned a podcast there. Is there a podcast that the listeners might be able to listen to as well?
So the podcast is called SoundOut: Voices of LGBTQI Activism. And if you jump to the GiveOut website, which is giveout.org, you’ll be able to find the podcast section. And yeah, there’s interviews with the activists on the ground there. And it is wonderful to sort of see their perspective and their hopes for the future.
Definitely, thank you so much for sharing that I will definitely have a listen. And I’m sure it might be of interest to some of our listeners, too. Well, Dan, thank you so much for joining me today. We’ve really discussed quite a lot of different things and all, you know, really important works. And just – just kind of finishing off – if people would like to follow your work or follow any, you know, kind of the things that you’re doing at the moment. Is there anywhere that people can find you online?
Yep. I’m all over social media as @DanNouveau, and it’d be wonderful to have you follow me. And yeah, I can tell you all about the exciting things that are happening. Actually, there’s one more exciting thing that’s happening, right, which is, at the end of April, you’re going to be taking over the Queer Britain social media account for just a day, aren’t you?
Yes, we are, we’re going to take you on a little bit of a queer walk around Reading, we’re going to go and see some queer sites through twitter. So yes, we’re very excited. Thank you so much for allowing us to be on the Queer Britain twitter, it will be fantastic to show some of the queer sites that have been found within our history group. And thank you so much for joining us, Dan. And I’m sure – I’m sure we’ll be hearing from you soon. Or, you know, posting on our social medias about all the amazing projects that you’re working on at the moment. So thanks again.
Thank you, Amy.
Amy Austin, George Stokes
And Amy, can you just kick us off by telling us a bit more about your PhD research within the gender history cluster at the University of Reading?
Yeah, absolutely. So the gender history cluster is basically a group of PhD and staff members who as part of their sort of area of expertise, they all include an element of gender. And so we meet basically once a month, and sometimes more frequently. And we discuss upcoming events and conferences that are related to gender, and the blog that we do, which is part of the university history website, which sort of covers our research and different kind of things that we’ve come across, and kind of current issues as well. And we all cover sort of a really diverse areas of history, both sort of geographically and in terms of period and subject. But the common theme is basically something to do with gender. So mine basically looks at transgender identities in Britain from 1870 to the 1940s. And it roughly falls into two sections. So the first kind of charts the medical developments and categorizations of transgender, starting with the work of Havelock Ellis, who was a British sexologist, pretty much the only British sexologist at the time. And so he basically wrote a paper called Eonists. And this was his term for transgender, taken from the Chevalier d’Éon who was a French diplomat, who sometimes presented as female and sometimes presented as male. So that was his term that he used, although it was never really adopted in Britain. And then I move on to kind of looking at the development of hormone treatments, and the changing kind of medical theories about gender and whether it’s static, or is sort of fluid and can change. And then I move on to cover the first sex reassignment surgeries in Britain on Michael Dillon and Roberta Cowell, who shared the same surgeon and looking at sort of their lives and what sort of the difference was to them in presenting as their gender once they’d had surgeries compared to people who – the surgery wasn’t available to. And then the second section looks more at the sort of cultural and legal side of things. So there was no legal sanction against being transgender, or cross dressing, but there were societal ones, because people were very uncomfortable with the idea that gender wasn’t fixed, and it could change. And there were quite a lot of concerns, particularly in the 30s, about female athletes and whether they could change gender or not. So I look at that. I look at the case of Augustine Hull, who was arrested ostensibly for being homosexual, but it was the cross dressing that triggered it. And then I look at kind of fictional representations of transgender. So, Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, The Well of Loneliness, which is usually seen as a lesbian novel, but you can sort of, as Jay Prosser’s kind of argued, you can reassess it as a transgender narrative. And also looking at as a case study, Vita Sackville-West, who inspired Orlando, and sort of has normally been seen as a lesbian figure, but she can also be sort of reinterpreted in a trans way – she did present as male during her relationship with Violet Keppel. And I’m also looking at drag as a performance art and comparing it and showing the distinctions between actually presenting as trans and then the performance aspect of drag, and seeing sort of how they influenced each other, where they overlap, and where they’re distinct.
Brilliant, sounds really interesting. And I think your time period covers such a – such an interesting development for gender, as you’ve just said. So your research focuses on attitudes to gender in the same period as the Broken Futures project, and gender also plays a part in historical attitudes to male same-sex sex. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
Yes, so most of the information I’ve come across on this subject has been in connection with sexology. So sort of my information, it will be a bit sort of medically slanted. But there are many other perspectives on this relationship between gender and male same-sex sex. But basically, I found that gender and sexuality are repeatedly intertwined, both sort of historically and today in scholarship and popular attitudes. So I think when you’re sort of conducting academic research it’s very important to show the distinction between gender identity and sexuality, but also not to completely segregate them and ignore where they overlap because there is a lot of overlap, even though they are distinct. And this is really clear in sexology, where they’re sort of – there was a real focus at the beginning of the 20th century in sort of categorising gender and sort of sexualities in a kind of medical way. So when they were categorising homosexuality, they would sort of incorporate – sort of what we would see as gender nonconformity, or sort of transgender ways of interpreting their behaviour, which we would have seen more now as kind of gender nonconformity. But there they were kind of seeing it as an indication of homosexuality. So for example, in 1868, Karl Ulrichs, who was a German sexologist kind of defined one form of homosexual behaviour, a very effeminate form as being a female soul in a male body. So this was kind of looking at men who would sort of be typically stereotyped as being passive and sort of more sort of interested in kind of clothing or different attitudes like that, and sort of rather than being the active, traditional stereotype of masculinity, they were sort of identifying as being more like a female in their male body. And then Magnus Hirschfeld, who was another German sexologist, he went on to develop this with his theory of sexual intermediaries. So he created a scale, which ranged from the ideal male to the ideal female, and the ideal male would be cis and heterosexual as would the female, and all individuals would be somewhere on this scale. And those who were homosexual or more gender fluid would be closer to the centre, or sort of nearer to a gender other than that they were assigned at birth. And the scale basically covered all forms of sexuality and gender fluidity. So again, they’re linked even though Hirschfeld was quite clear in distinguishing between the two. And then if you move to Britain, again, Havelock Ellis’s work on sexual inversion, which was his term for homosexuality, he included a lot of gendered behaviours in his definitions of homosexuals. And in many cases, they highlighted kind of the culturally constructed feminine traits as the main indicators of male homosexuality. So in his case studies, he talks about men who are very interested in playing with dolls in childhood, and they enjoyed sewing and kind of domestic activities, they were very interested in women’s clothes, and also having a kind of really maternal interest in caring for children and sort of wanting to raise children and look after them. And in a couple of the instances, the individuals actually sort of expressed this feeling of being a woman or a man in a wrong body, despite being included in kind of a homosexual case study. Whereas the others would sort of be very definite that they didn’t think they were female, they just felt female emotions. But obviously, in the case studies, these would all get kind of mixed together and sort of overlapping. So the gender sort of side of it does seem to really impact on definitions of homosexuality. And then you kind of get some of the gender fluid cases that Ellis looked at in eonism, they co-opt Ulrichs’ definition of homosexuality to describe their feelings of gender fluidity. So they would say, they felt like a female soul trapped in a male body, but the sort of female soul was kind of their actual identity. And the body sort of needed to be changed to match with that. So there’s a lot of overlap and sort of, they really influenced each other.
It sounds really interesting that you can, at the same time use gender and gender nonconformity to explain your homosexual feelings and also, that you also get these people who rail against that. And what you’ve talked about sounds confined to the elites really, and we’ve definitely got some people in our study who are well off and are educated at Eton, Oxford, and Cambridge. But what do you think are the differences between the ways in which these people would have related their gender, gender identity to same-sex desire, as opposed to say, a farm labourer who didn’t move in quite the same social circles?
Oh I think it’s kind of hard to answer in a balanced way because quite often, although it’s not always the case, and it’s not the case over the entire period, you quite often find sources on working-class same-sex desire are very limited, so references to it will come from court records, or doctors’ reports. So obviously a class bias is contained in that and you’re not getting sort of the actual working-class experience, you’re getting a sort of middle-class or upper-class understanding of what they’ve decided the working-class experience is, and it sort of puts a construction on it. And there are quite often particularly earlier in the period, there are very few sources in their own voices. Unlike wealthier members of society, who would quite often have correspondence or have left diaries. In my own research, I’ve basically largely come across middle-class and upper-class cases. But there does seem from sort of my limited knowledge on it, there are differences between the representations. Particularly in the work of historian Clayton Whisnant, I think – I’m sorry if I’m butchering the name. And he’s basically written an article exploring the life of J. R. Ackerley, who himself was a middle-class homosexual. But he looks at the work of George Chauncey, which kind of suggests that working-class, homosexual men could maintain a sort of masculine image, despite being homosexual by presenting themselves as the active partner in all their sexual encounters, rather than the passive because that would sort of be more derogatory. So they could kind of show themselves as a sort of aggressive masculine figure, and that they’re active, and they’re sort of still taking the male role. Despite it being a sort of same-sex relationship, there’s quite a lot of focus in sources of still interpreting homosexual relationships in a kind of heterosexual model and sort of one partner needs to take on the active male role. And the other one, then by default, becomes passive and sort of more feminine. And basically, Whisnant argues that Ackerley’s life shows that it was actually easier for the working-class to maintain this masculine image than it was for the middle class. And during his lifetime, Ackerley, eventually, after sort of years of kind of experimenting, and sort of finding it very difficult to know how to express himself ended up rejecting and repressing any signs of effeminacy in himself, both through his clothing and his choice of sexual partners. But this was quite a difficult image to sort of eradicate. And I think particularly in Britain, this was largely influenced by the Oscar Wilde trials, because this was sort of seen as the classic representation of upper-class male same-sex desire, which focused on sort of the cult of kind of decadence, a concern with sort of appearance and clothing and being highly cultured. And this was sort of all seen as kind of being linked to effeminacy, and sort of more of a kind of lazy, not having to be employed sort of way. And it was seen as very kind of, in a derogatory light by sort of outsiders. And this, of course, doesn’t actually necessarily reflect the lived experience of upper-class individuals either. And in my work, a key factor is that gender variance isn’t clearly defined, and there’s no sort of universal experience, but it’s very diverse. And I think it’s probably fair to argue, this is also the case for male same-sex sex, particularly in different classes. So I think it’s very difficult to sort of get to the actual sort of experience. But from what I can tell, from my limited research, there may be sort of more information on this, that there was this sort of association with kind of upper-class as being very decadent and deviant and being very effeminate if they were homosexual, whereas the working class, it was still, you could still be quite – sort of seen as rugged and sort of active and aggressive. And that sort of links in with all of the stuff Helen Smith has been researching on a similar topic to us – that idea that you can sort of keep your masculinity if you act in a certain way, even though you’re having – you’re engaging in same-sex sex. We’ve talked a bit about the difficulties with finding these sort of identities in the archives. I wonder if you could just tell us a bit more about how difficult it is to find any transgender identities inarchives more generally? Yeah, so I think it’s even more difficult to find transgender or gender fluid kind of individuals in archives, even more than it is with sort of same-sex relationships largely because of the sort of language barrier. So the terminology wasn’t even as developed as sort of the language for kind of homosexual identities. So when you’re sort of looking for a term, you’re trying to sort of look for what was said at the time, and there’s no sort of universal agreement on it. So you’ve sort of got to look for ‘man poses as woman’. And sometimes that won’t lead you to the sort of information you want. And also, the problem is, if people successfully passed, then that leads to kind of an absence of evidence. So you quite often only hear about people who were either kind of forcibly outed in the press, and you get more information in America because it was illegal to crossdress. So you get court records and sort of arrest information. And people who sought treatment – you’re seeking – get some information then once treatment’s coming up. Obviously, a lot of that was lost when Hirschfeld’s Institute was destroyed by the Nazis. So a lot of information got lost then. And obviously, you get sort of autobiographical accounts as well. But these are often very limited. And the actual archives themselves are often LGBT+ archives, which quite often are predominantly lesbian and gay in their information, quite often because that’s what’s available, rather than any sort of attempt to sort of hide transgender history, it’s just that there is more available on that. But there are some that are dedicated transgender archives, where you can find a lot of sort of images and newspaper articles and different information, which is really helpful. But obviously, because of all these limitations, I found, particularly in my research being based in Britain, historians have to focus on sort of a really small number of case studies. So it’s very difficult to have a representative sort of discussion. So you’ve sort of got limited by race, class, and whether people sought treatment or not, you quite often get a tantalising sentence sort of in Michael Dillon’s letters that, when he was writing to his surgeon, he sort of talks about this other woman you were helping, and has it gone off well, and sort of, then him writing to someone else and saying, I know just how you feel when I was at that stage of the operation, I felt hopeless, but it’s worth it. But you never find out who this person is, because they sort of don’t mention them by name. And the sort of correspondence doesn’t exist anymore. So it can be really difficult. But I think that’s sort of the case with all marginalised history and sort of part of the kind of excitement of it is sort of looking for these. And when you find them, it’s really interesting sort of how developed sort of understandings of gender fluidity work sort of in periods when you wouldn’t expect it so much.
That’s really interesting, and what you said about sort of conforming and things like that, really tie in, I think, with how we sort of approach the project and, and the way in which we’ve done that is to obviously – we’ve looked at the court records. But we’re very aware of the fact that there must be people who have got away with it –
There must be people we just can’t find who have been happily living their life, with no state intervention. So yeah, really interesting to think about those ties and people living – able to live their life without sort of state intrusion, which I suppose is part of what being archived is about in some ways as well. So far, we’ve discussed 19th to early 20th century individuals, but one of our research sources for the years 1950s to 60s, was police gazettes, generously provided by Noreena Shopland’s thorough research. The police gazettes were used to share details on crimes committed around London, with public pleas for information, and when describing the individuals, terms like ‘effeminate voice and manner, uses cosmetics, a homosexual are used’. Can you tell us a bit more about how concepts around gender in this regard, vary over the time period you’re interested in?
Yeah, so the gender roles and sort of concepts of masculinity and femininity were sort of constantly in flux, over the whole kind of early and mid 20th century. Obviously, both wars had a big impact, particularly on cultural understandings of masculinity. Because women were going into the workplace while the men were fighting, and this was sort of perceived to some as a threat to masculine roles because women were competently carrying these jobs out. And it was sort of concerning to think – where is the sort of line between the genders and they’d sort of – the reliance on gendered roles, and then you get the advent of shellshock as well after the First World War, which led to a kind of weakening of this traditional, strong, stoic male soldier image that was cultivated and used a lot in propaganda. And because of this, alternative images of masculinity did evolve, such as men in reserved occupations would sort of be celebrated to kind of show that there still – it’s possible to still be part of a sort of masculine identity, even if you’re not fighting if you’re in a reserved occupation. And there was kind of a tacit acceptance as well of the emotions of men and sort of fear not necessarily being shameful, and it could be sort of conceived in a different way. But these reinterpretations seem to have been reserved largely for kind of high-ranking officers. So again, it would be sort of the upper classes, upper middle classes, and even with this sort of overwhelming image would be the kind of strong capable soldier who was brave and sort of not complaining. And then you get the suffrage movement as well, at the same time, which was seen as a blow to kind of the male hold on politics. And so you get some backlash earlier in the century, when you get the new woman image of a sort of independent intellectual woman would be then ridiculed by sort of papers such as Punch and different things that she’d be criticised for being manish, and kind of aping male behaviour. And they’d sort of imply kind of female, same-sex desire as being linked with this image. So this was kind of happening at the same time. So while you’re getting kind of more diverse understandings, you’re sort of getting more active and independent women as well as the domestic image and you’re getting sort of men who was feeling emotion and sort of not necessarily being the strong warrior. There’s still sort of focus on kind of the traditional ideas as being the best ones, or sort of the ones that people should want to identify with, even if they can’t, particularly after World War Two, there was a really strong push to reaffirm traditional gender roles. So they’d sort of have, the women would need to sort of be passive and domesticated and staying at home as a wife and mother, this was their kind of real important job that they needed to do. So they were encouraged to leave their wartime kind of professions and go back to the home. And this was what they should be doing. And if they weren’t, they were taking jobs away from the men who were returning who needed these. And then on the other side, you get the men who were sort of seen as now being very strong, they needed to be the employed provider. And so by the sort of 1940s, there’s kind of this hierarchy of masculine identities. So the sort of – at the top of the pyramid, you’d get the husband, father, kind of who is a worker and or soldier, depending on whether the war was sort of active at that point. And then below this, you would get sort of single men and then sort of, it would go sort of lower and lower. And these kind of lower down images were somehow sort of seen as less than even though it wasn’t explicitly stated. The kind of constant promotion of the family man who provides for his family sort of shows that if you’re not doing this, there’s something wrong somehow almost. And obviously, sort of homosexual identities would end up being in these kind of lesser sort of masculine identities and sort of seen as not quite as ideal. So this is kind of a change, because at the beginning of the century, you get kind of attempts by people like John Addington Symonds and Edward carpenter, who were trying to stress that homosexuality was natural, it wasn’t against nature, and it was sort of actually a very positive identity to have. And that individuals who displayed mixed gender characteristics were actually some of the best people in society because they could be well-rounded, and they could perform different roles. And then by the middle of the century, you’re getting more of a change towards there being a stigma again, attached to sort of male homosexuality. And while this wasn’t universally the case, it does come up quite frequently. So for example, in my research on Roberta Cowell, who was the first trans woman in Britain to undergo sex reassignment surgery, when Cowell presented as Robert, he was a Spitfire pilot, he was married and he’d fathered two children. So he would have been considered kind of the pinnacle of masculinity. And throughout Cowell’s autobiography, they repeatedly state that they were never ever homosexual. They sort of say, when they were Robert, they liked women, when they were transitioning, they were asexual and had no interest in anybody. And once they were Roberta, they liked men. There was never any sort of suggestion and she’s quite sort of -uses very kind of vitriolic language to describe homosexuals who she did come across. And she would sort of use really derogatory terms and be very offensive and sort of, say things like if she’d met one of them, she would have punched them, and that it was disgusting. And she was nothing like that when she was Robert and sort of saying that even now she’s Roberta, although she wouldn’t punch them now, because she’s a woman, so she doesn’t have that aggressiveness, she would still find them appalling and would not want to go near someone who had sort of a hint of homosexuality. So there’s clearly this understanding that it was somehow seen as sort of being lesser of a male if you were homosexual. And again, Cowell talks about how depressed they were when a therapist told them that they had female traits. And as presenting as Robert, he found this really upsetting and sort of a real blow. And then once he visited a doctor, and they’ve said, there may be allegedly a physical, biological kind of basis for your feminine traits, there’s this massive sense of relief, and that it’s okay, and that it’s acceptable, because actually, I’ve always been a woman, so it’s okay. So it’s sort of difficult, because you’re kind of getting this image of really seeing that homosexuality had, again, sort of picked up a taint. And while this is kind of continuous, it’s also changing as at different points it becomes more or less pronounced. And you can sort of feel that, while it could be argued that maybe Cowell is saying this, to show that she was transgendered and not homosexual, and trying to create a distinction, in earlier cases in Ellis’ work, the gender sort of fluid individuals still stress that they are identifying as a woman, and this has nothing to do with their sexuality. They aren’t at all derogatory about people who are sort of seeing their femininity as part of their sexuality, and there’s no kind of condemnation, they’re just saying, This is not linked to sex, I actually am a woman, it’s not that I’m just homosexual. And whereas in Cowell’s work, there’s a very clear, I’m not homosexual, because homosexuality is disgusting to me. And so you can sort of see that there’s changing kind of understandings of gender over the period, but also a lot of consistency too at the same time. So it’s kind of a really strange amalgamation of sort of constant flux.
Mm brilliant – it’s really good to have some context around the individuals in our study. I think sometimes we, although our project’s been aimed at sort of understanding them as people, we sometimes – we lose the sort of broader societal changes and things that happen over the over the period. So yeah, great to have that in. Our final question is gender identity is in the news a lot at the moment, and transgender people are often portrayed as a very new phenomenon. Do you think it’s important to highlight that this is not the case?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s vital for several reasons. I think. Firstly, it’s important to have representative histories for marginalised groups. And it’s important to have an inclusive curriculum in schools and higher education, where students can sort of identify with different people in different groups. And it’s not just a sort of, cis heterosexual white presentation. It’s very important that students don’t feel unrepresented and alienated while they’re studying. I also think it’s important because for historians it sheds a lot of light on concepts of gender, whether you’re looking at sort of male and female, or if you are looking at gender fluidity, you can learn a lot from looking at gender fluidity itself. It sheds light on gender performance and kind of accepted forms of being male and female, because quite often, particularly in periods where there was no surgical option available, or there was sort of more of an attack, people would cleave to kind of the stereotypically celebrated images of male and female in order to be accepted, whether they sort of felt that they were – sort of that was how their gender identity was actually to be displayed. They would do that in order to feel safer. And also, it challenges the sort of idea that the binary gender system that dominates western histories of gender has always been the case. And there’s never been a sort of understanding in the west of gender fluidity – it sort of challenges that as you can see that clearly there were actually understandings of this I think the most important reason is for contemporary transgender or gender nonconforming individuals. It needs to be made really clear that gender nonconformity, gender variants, or transgender, like homosexuality or bisexuality has a long history. And it’s not sort of a new fad or fashion which sometimes is misguidedly argued in the press. And while the terminology that we use may be recent, the language is constantly evolving, and it can be accepted or rejected by individuals today, as much as it was in the past. So quite often, even if terms existed, people in the past wouldn’t necessarily have used them to describe their own experience. I think it’s sort of misguided to argue that because people hadn’t got the actual label of transgender in these periods that they didn’t exist, particularly as people today reject or accept the label of transgender according to their own experience. I think it’s very clear as well, that transgender identities have existed, albeit by another name, as long as cisgender categories have. And I think they should be accorded the kind of same respect and acceptance. And I think that much of the negative response you see today, to transgender individuals stems from two factors, I think, ignorance and fear. And the latter kind of stems from the former. So a lot of people who don’t have any knowledge of what it means to be transgender, or they’ve never met a transgender individual, they don’t understand it – sort of, it creates a fear of the unknown. So I think by highlighting kind of histories of transgender identities, in conjunction with greater information on contemporary experiences, you can help to sort of eradicate this ignorance on the subject, which hopefully will lead to greater understanding and then acceptance.
I think that’s really powerful. I think it’s important to let that stand alone. So I think we should definitely end there and say thank you so much for being a part of our online seminar series, and the Broken Futures project in general. Thank you.
Oh, you’re welcome. It’s lovely to be here.
Aleardo Zanghellini, Amy Hitchings
Thank you so much for joining us today. We are delighted to welcome Professor Aleardo Zanghellini from the University of Reading’s School of Law to the Broken Futures seminar series. And so firstly, thank you so much for being with us today. And I thought we’d get started with a bit of an initial question about your academic specialism. So your academic specialism is in law and legal theory. And what interested you in queer heritage? And how do you think law and legal theory relate to queer heritage?
Okay, so I guess, you know, if I answer the second question first, law and legal theory relate to queer heritage simply because for centuries, and certainly well into the 20th century, homosexuality was, particularly male homosexuality was, or male same-sex sexual activity has been a site of intense regulation, not only by the law, but also medico-legal discourses, of course, so it’s almost virtually impossible to, you know, talk about homosexuality without thinking immediately about law, about the prohibition of sexual activity, about the ways in which homosexuality was constructed by medical and legal discourses. So I guess that’s where the relation is In terms of my interest in queer heritage, is, I suppose, I’m gay myself, I’m same-sex attracted. So I’m interested in things that have to do with same-sex desire. The heritage side of things, in other words, the reason why I’m drawn perhaps, to same-sex histories has to do with an attraction for the past, generally, you know, aesthetically, I read a lot of books, which are not contemporary books, and novels. I have, you know, even in terms of my internal decoration I, I enjoy, you know, I’ve enjoyed the past and heritage generally, and I think, queer heritage, particularly, because perhaps I don’t relate massively to post the Stonewall gay culture. You know, it’s it’s great, you know, it’s great that it’s there. It’s great that it has given us the rights and the freedoms that we didn’t have before. But, but I don’t know, I’m really drawn to pre-Stonewall, you know, gay culture. Sometimes your can’t really rationalise some of these things? But but, yeah.
Yeah, really interesting. And I think exactly what you said about kind of the, the interest that the researcher has within heritage, you know, I think as a personal, as a researcher myself, I have my own personal reasons for wanting to research this stuff. And from that, we kind of get our own kind of interests within this research and what different things we’re actually considering, like one of the things I find so interesting is that you can find somebody so interested in your kind of crime and punishment, but they have no interest in kind of same-sex desire and how that was punished. So yeah, I can, you know, interest as a real particular interest is very important, and just out of interest. Within our research, we’ve indicated that the challenge, there are challenges with investigating criminal records for consensual same-sex sex. And we’ve found that consenting adult sex between men, child sex offences, sex with animals are all covered under the offence of buggery. So what do you think that kind of says around how sex between men has been treated historically and regulated?
Yeah, so you know, in a way, it shows I suppose that homosexuality for a long time was not special or not so special. You know, it was more like the Christian West preoccupation with non-procreative sex was really what was salient or most salient historically and homosexualitywas just one of the many sort of deviant or non-normative forms of sexual behaviour that you could engage in. However, you know, I think it’s Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who points out that at some point, between the 19th and the 20th century, homosexuality did become special. We all started becoming in the West obsessed with the same-sex sexual activity over and above other forms of non-normative sexual behaviour. And nobody really knows why exactly that happened. But it did happen. And this is, you know, genealogical inquiry, à la Foucault, often is able to identify these shifts in discourse, but not necessarily to explain why they happened. And I think, you know, we’re still not 100% sure why suddenly, homosexuality became more salient than other forms of non-normative sexual activity, but, but it did happen. And, you know, the reasons might still be relatively obscure, but it really sort of ended up capturing our collective imagination. And I think it still does.
Definitely, definitely, leading on from, that your recent book, The Spellbinders, utilises historical fiction and interpretation. Can you tell us a little bit more about the book, the process and where your kind of influences came from for that work?
Yeah, in terms of my main influences, if I, you know, if I try to reconstruct them, I don’t know. But I can tell you that before writing that book, I had been reading queer historical fiction. I’ve read much more since writing the book, but I had been reading great historical fictions before, and, and the author that really stood out to me was Mary Renault and her cycle on Alexander the Great. So if I could say, you know, who do I aspire to be like? Or who do I look up to as a as a great novelist. It would be, it would be Mary Renault, but there are plenty of great, you know, works of queer historical fiction, and one that I really, really enjoyed. And I read it before Christmas recently, it’s a 1946, if I remember correctly, book by Gladys Schmitt. And it’s called David the King. So it’s the story of the biblical King David. And, you know, same sex desire. It’s not,you know, the main theme that recurs through the whole of the book, but it definitely pops up here and there, and in particularly the first part before Jonathan dies, there is this relationship, which is never consummated, between David and Jonathan, but which is, you know, a delight to read. And, and yeah, and the book is just, it’s just unbelievably sort of smart and complex. And once then, and it’s massive as well, it’s, I can’t remember, 600 or 700 pages of a fine print. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Good.
Good. Um, can you tell us a little bit more about Spellbinders? What kind of, you know, what’s the kind of main feature of the book?
Yeah, so The Spellbinders is a story about King Edward the second of England, 13th century English king, who has gone down in history for being a terrible ruler, and who was same-sex attracted, and who had an erotic, one would say, investment in in two people, primarily, Piers Gaveston, and, and Hugh Despenser, the younger. And so this story is called The Spellbinders, because it’s about these two men who, in a way, held the king spellbound. And the reason why I sort of focused on that idea is that actually, when you read the 14th century sources, they actually talk about these two men bewitching the King. So holding him under a spell, almost because he was so enamoured with them and, and sort of pandered to their every whim. So so that’s, that’s where the title comes from.
Amazing. Of course, there are a lot of ethical considerations surrounding the use of historical sources for collecting stories of same sex, sexual activity or same sex desire. I just wondered if you can tell us a little bit more about any of the ethical considerations that you faced during your time within historical sources?
Yeah, and thanks for these great questions. I mean, by the way. Yeah, so I think, you know, as far as I can see, the ethical consideration comes, come in when, because you can’t sort of hurt the people you’re researching about – the dead, but you know, of course you can hurt their reputation I suppose. So the ethical considerations come not so much in the process of collecting the data, but in the process of interpreting the data and then presenting it to your audience. And it seems to me that here, the concerns that might be relevant from an ethical point of view are, you know, you, we spoke about Edward the second, for example, you can still see in the 21st century historians, both amateur historians, and even some professional historians, whose bias, whose homophobic bias is fairly evident in their treatment of Edward the second, which ends up you know, blinding them to some of the actual nuances and facts that, you know, unless biased, the historian would be able to pick up on and so, you know, you end up actually producing a distorted account of what his reign was, which is not to say that that Edward wasn’t a very poor ruler, but but you know, there is a way in which you can, as a historian fail to, because I said, pick up on some nuances, that instead are visible to people like Kathryn Warner, who does a very good job of, you know, researching Edward without being influenced by any kind of homophobic bias. So, a different kind of distortion, I think may come for people like us, you know, like you and me who are sympathetic to same-sex desire, and who may have different reasons for becoming wedded to particular hypothesis, right, historical hypothesis, and here, the risks might be different. It might be that, you know, we become attached to the idea that say, the past was a site of relentless oppression for gay people. And so again, you know, when you, then you try to make basically the historical record, fit your hypothesis instead of vice versa, instead of fitting your hypothesis to the historical record. And so then again, you produce a distorted account, or you know, this might be different it might be that especially if you’re a young researcher, you’re want to find something new. You want to say something new. You’re under pressure to say something new if if your research is funded, if, you know, if you want to attract a scholarship, say, because that’s what is prized – it’s originality. And so, you know, again, people might come up with this slightly wacky hypothesis that, again, maybe are not really born out. You know, in maths, or in some of the sciences, there is this idea that when a simple explanation is available, you should prefer it because the elegance of your theories is itself something important. So a simple explanation is better than more complex ones. And, you know, maybe in history, that is true, too. But, as I said, some pressures in terms of wanting to say something that is original might sometimes detract from those simpler and probably more plausible explanations. So in all these cases, I think ethics comes in, because you’re doing a disservice to history, you’re doing a disservice to your audience. And actually, also to the people you’re talking about when, as I said, as I put it before, you make the historical fact fit your hypotheses, whatever they might be, rather than vice versa.
Definitely. And, you know, I think that’s something that we’ve been so cautious of throughout the project. And the use of the history group has been able to see the kind of benefits in this area where you have multiple different people that aren’t attached to these personal biases, you know, that have different personal biases, and then you can play off between them to kind of get this accurate, you know, interpretation of what you’re actually looking at, and the kind of benefits that come from collaborative working in that, that you have, you know, other interpretations to kind of fit against your narrative so that you can check your starting premise and to confirm whether you’re actually searching for what you actually want to see, instead of what you can see, definitely. So well, leading on from that question. So due to the fact that only sexual activity between males was historically prosecuted, no women or obviously trans people actually appear within our records that we’ve located, people of colour are also under represented. So do you think there’s more to do in heritage moving away from maybe this kind of criminal approach to same-sex desire to make sure that we actually archive you know, the archives preserve all the histories that, you know, from all types of communities?
Yes, and I think, you know, it’s a matter of being a bit just creative with with the evidence that you have. So there is research by Oram, for example, who has found that, of course, the the evidence about and the discourses about male same-sex sexual activity in the middle of the 20th century, is much more abundant than about, particularly in Britain, and about female same-sex sexual activity, but she found legal sources that were still relevant. So she found reports of newspapers, which talked about matrimonial causes, you know, divorce cases in which a husband was basically suing the wife for cruelty on the basis that she was having an affair with another woman behind his back or sometimes not even behind his back. And that’s the way in which lesbianism became became relevant legally, even if not from a criminal point of view, it could constitute a cause for demanding a divorce on the ground of cruelty, of your spouse. So you know, that, that you just need to think outside the box to try to locate this, this evidence that related to people who are not male, gay males, I suppose. With trans people, there’s a whole sort of different set of issues comes up because you have a you know, the difference, the strict differentiation between homosexuality and transgender identities itself, something that has become established, firmly established in the 21st century and probably after Stonewall, but, you know, well into the first part of the 20th century, you could see a fluidity really, between the two. And so, you know, same-sex attracted men would sometimes give themselves and call each other by female names. And sometimes cross dress, had relationships with men still, you know, maybe use the masculine pronoun where referring to themselves, but but you can see these these really, really complex situations where gender identity and same-sex desire are not too sharply differentiated on the basis that when you felt same sex attracted, some of the medical discourses or psychiatric discourses, were telling you that, you know, you were not fully male. And so that kind of led to some kind of mix between gender identity considerations or issues and, and same-sex desire. And there is actually a fantastic book, another novel, which I came to know about, because last year I was, was it last year? I think it was last year, I was one of the judges for the Lambda Literary Awards, and this book came up and it was so good and the author is Thorne, another woman and I’m just talking about, talking about all these novels written by women about same-sex attracted men. The title is terrible: My Baby Chased Away the Blues. But, but the book is really really good – it’s well-written, and it is about these pre-Stonewall same-sex, gender-differentiated relationship. So between a policeman, as I recall, I read the book several months ago, and this, you know, man who, however, cross dresses and you know, and really is invested in this idea of tenderness and sweetness and femininity, but still kind of, you know, calls himself by, by a male name and but, you know, that his partner would buy, you know, dresses or this is really, really interesting and really, really sort of sensitively treated and and really gives you, you know, you realise when you read this kind of fiction how well an author of fiction can get into the past and perhaps, you know, just use her imagination to, you know, produce an account, which reads completely credible and plausible, and, and in a way that is much more powerful than just the historian telling you, oh, look, there were, you know, queer communities where same-sex desire and gender identity were kind of all mixed up.
Definitely, definitely. Well, firstly, on your first point about kind of the play off between, you know, the regulation of same-sex desire between males and how that’s kind of been, you know, kind of in abundance between, you know, the 1960s, one of the most interesting parts about it is that we we’ve worked with an individual called Noreena Shopland, and they’ve put together, kind of, a book to support the endeavours of people researching any kind of LGBT lives throughout the archives. And as you said, I think you er, you referred to a case in terms of someone in terms of matrimonial laws, and Noreena’s has actually spoke about the many different ways that you can actually take different archival records outside of Crime and Punishment archives, and actually utilise them to find these stories. So yes, they definitely are there. And if any listeners would like to know, it’s Noreena Shopland, A Practical Guide to finding LGBT people in archives, something along that title, I’ll include it in the show notes. And then also picking up on your last point about kind of effeminacy and gender identity and the kind of conflation with same-sex desire. One of the things that we’ve seen is within the police gazettes, so these were generously given to us by Noreena, who happens to have them stored in her wardrobe at home. And she’s – in these, you can find – the police gazettes were sent out to kind of tell people in the UK, who were they looking for? Who were the criminals, you know, who was on a warrant? Who do they need to find? And there was a common kind of approach to describe the people as effeminate, or, you know, probably a homosexual, has seen – been seen wearing female’s clothes, female clothing, probably a homosexual. So yes, that conflation is definitely – exists even in the profiling, I think, to certain extent of individuals. Again, that’s quite an interesting thing if we consider what gender identity is today. Moving on to our final question, are there any exciting things that you’re working on at the moment? Are you are you working on any exciting projects? Any, things like research?
Yeah, so right now I’m researching and doing some research for an article that I plan to write. And, again, this one sort of puts together my different interests, including in jurisprudence, so legal philosophy, and I guess, constitutional theory to some extent, and, you know, same-sex desire, and this one is about it’s about the Italian occupation of Fiume, which was a town in, in Croatia, on the Adriatic coast, not far from Italy. And, you know, after World War One, so 1919 and 1920, this very famous Italian poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was also a soldier, and he was a very sort of flamboyant personality, hewas very straight, went and basically took over this town, because he was not satisfied that, you know, that town had been traditionally largely for a majority Italian, ethnically speaking, for centuries, and there was a sense of that, you know, that should become part of Italy. And but, you know, the Italian government was happy to let you know, this city go in order to get some other concessions from, you know, the Treaty of Versailles and so on. And this poet, wasn’t happy with it. And so at the head of some volunteers, he went and took over the city, and he was there for you know, several months and trying to get the Italians to actually take over officially but the Italians weren’t particularly interested in doing that. And but anyway, it’s a really interesting sort of episode historically, but but what made me interested about it is the ways in which, you know, in constitutional orders and legal systems are a bit like Tinkerbell, right, to Peter Pan’s fairy, in the sense that if you stop believing in them, or if not enough people believe in them, they cease to exist. And it’s – it was interesting to me to look at the ways in which same-sex desire can sustain belief in a legal system. So in this particular situation, Gabriele D’Annunzio promulgated a very short-lived constitution, which was really interesting, because it was actually – the first draft was written by a revolutionary intellectual called De Ambris. And so you know, that was equality of treatment on the basis of sex, women would do the military service, it was incredibly progressive, and, you know, protection of cultural minorities, and so on and so forth. So this constitution – and but what is interesting is that because D’Annunzio rewrote this constitution, because he was a poet and made it into a beautiful work of literature as well. So it’s aesthetically as well as politically significant. And some of the people who were attracted to this whole thing, so so after D’Annunzio took over, a number of people came from different parts of the world even – primarily from Italy, you know, all thisreally vibrant, intellectual life, all these radical intellectuals who thought that something really amazing was happening here. And a lot of these people, the most famous – one, one way or another, they were all same-sex attracted, for one reason or another, which is kind of interesting, because D’Annunzio had a very straight persona. And he was known for being like, Don Juan. At the same time, D’Annunzio, in his political speeches, addresses his audience, with the language of love. And this was primarily a male audience, and he keeps insisting on this idea of love. So there is this really homoerotic tension here, you know, that is used to sustain that there is a whole very short and brief constitutional and political experiment. And so I’m really interested in kind of trying to probe into that into that whole mechanisms whereby same-sex desire sustains belief into a constitutional order, and thereby enables a constitutional order to survive, at least briefly. It’s, you know, as it is, it’s still ill-defined, but you can see why I’m interested in it. Right? There’s so much here to –
I can really see why you’re interested in it. That is, that is very, very interesting. Yes. I wish I wish this wasn’t actually just a podcast, and it was a kind of film recording, so people could see my face throughout that. Gosh, yes. Very interesting. Any – anything else you kind of working on at the moment? Is there any any details? We can expect? a follow up from Spellbinders? Maybe? Just er –
Er well, I mean, I have a novel that I have that’s been sort of in the making for a long time now. And I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. I mean, I, I’m almost at the end, but there’s something stopping me from actually finishing it, I guess I’m not convinced it is, you know, it is good enough. So I don’t know, it might come out. I mean, it is it is a kind of modern retelling or interpretation of the myth of Gilgamesh. Again, same-sex desire. But you know, I’m not as convinced, you know, as I was when I was writing The Spellbinders. So, I don’t know if that will actually ever be published or, or what I’m going to do with it.
I’m sure I would love to read it anyway. Well, understandable. But thank you so much for joining us today and telling us a little bit more about your experiences and your work so far. And I hope that was quite exciting for our listeners. If you have any questions, or you’d like anything to be kind of sent over to Aleardo, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I’ll include all of the information about Aleardo in our show notes. So you can give a bit of a research and go and get your copy of Spellbinders – because everyone needs a copy! But yeah, so thank you so much for joining us today Aleardo, and we will speak to you soon.
Thank you, Amy.
Alright, thanks Ale.
Prof Katherine Harloe, George Stokes, Amy Hitchings
Amy Hitchings 00:00
Welcome back to the Broken Futures Seminar Series. Today,
we’re delighted to welcome Professor Katherine Harloe from the University of Reading’s,
Classics department. Thank you so much for being here with us today. And I just
thought as an initial question, I would ask in terms of your support with the
Broken Futures project being piloted through a Undergraduate Research
Opportunities Programme project that was supervised in 2018. George and I were
actually the student researchers on that project. And I just wondered if you
could tell us a little bit more about the initial idea where it came from, and
maybe even what a UROP even is.
Thanks very much, Amy, it’s really lovely to be here talking
to both of you, as you said, you were the student researchers on the original
project. So it’s just really wonderful to see how Broken Futures has developed
from that. So yes, UROP, it’s a scheme undergraduate research opportunities at
Reading. And it’s a scheme that we’ve had in place in Reading for quite a while
now. And what it does is it enables academics like me to bid for some money
over the summer in order to pay students to have a research internship working
on a project with us. So it gets undergraduates into real research, that’s
paid. But the idea is that it has some kind of benefit to the students beyond
just being paid. So it’s supposed to lead to a project, maybe a publication or
perhaps making a website or an engagement activity, or something that really
sort of enhances students intellectual journeys and their careers as well. And
this, I think, definitely did that. I hope you’d agree. So the other thing about
UROP, which is really great is that we’re encouraged to think about working
with project partners outside of the university for it. And of course, for the
UROP project that turned into Broken Futures, the UROP was a partnership
between the University of Reading and the Berkshire Record Office. And in
particular, Mark Stevens, the Berkshire County Archivist whom I think you’ve
interviewed for this seminar series as well. For the original idea, how did it
come about? Well, I was working on a very different context to do with queer
history and queer heritage, which is because one of the area’s I work on is
18th century connoisseurship in the classical tradition. And one of the things
I work on is someone called Johann Joachim Winckelmann who was a classical archaeologist
in the 18th century, and also quite a famous figure in gay history. And I was
beginning to work on his love letters. And I was interested to connect with
colleagues at and beyond Reading and see what was going on and try and bring
people together who were working on queer history within and throughout the
university. So we held a kind of early stage exploratory workshop, just as a
get together for some people in the area who were thinking about queer history
either in research or engagement contexts in museums and Mark came along to
that, as well as some people from Reading Museum and people in different
departments of the university, including Professor Aleardo Zanghellini, who’s
someone else you’ve interviewed. And also we were approached even at that early
stage by the Heritage Lottery Fund. And they said, Can we come to your
workshop, because we’re really, really interested in supporting research in
queer history. And I also invited some people from Support U, because I knew
that Support U, you was doing great work in the area and had already done the
hidden voices project. And so had been working in in heritage as well as
obviously offering a support service. And so we had a conversation around the
archives and reading Peter Stonely, he had already done some work on the
Reading Jail archives, in relation to saying who’d been in the prison at the
same time as Oscar Wilde. And Mark said, then that he thought that there was
more that could be done with the archival records, in order to track down ordinary
people, people who weren’t in the limelight, who’d been prosecuted for
homosexual offences. So I suppose that original idea came from from Mark from
Mark saying, I think their stuff from his archives, and it would be worth
opening up. And I’m primarily a cultural and intellectual historian. But the
opportunity of working with someone working with people in social history
seemed like it would be a really great opportunity. So when we thought about it
further, we thought that getting UROP funding would be a really good way to get
the project going. And then we recruited you too, which was brilliant. And you
know, the rest of the story, I think.
George Stokes 04:24
yes, definitely. You. You mentioned a bit about your interest
in terms of queer classics, and how about sort of maps on them to an interest
in sex between men in Victorian England. But how did your interest in queer
classic sort of come about?
It is an interesting question how my interest in queer classics
came about, and there’s a surface answer, I think in a deeper answer, or maybe
there’s three levels of answer. It’s very reflective question, George. On the
one hand, as I’ve said, there’s the role of Johann Joachim Winckelmann in queer
history. so I’d already written a book about him which was more about his
contribution to methodologies of classical scholarship but in the course of
that research I came across works of people like Edward Carpenter, Oscar Wilde,
John Addington Symonds and people in in Germany as well around the same time
Magnus Hirschfeld and people around the Max Spohr Verlag who were really
involved in these early campaigns for homosexual emancipation in Germany and in
England and they appealled to Winkelmann and they often cited Winkelmann in
their books as an example of a man who loved other men who’ve been a great
contributor to European culture so I was interested in if you like doing
justice to that strand in Winkelmann’s reception and as a classical reception
specialist I also think that one of the really important cultural meanings,
cultural resonances, that classical materialists had in the modern period is
precisely as a space of kind of positive imaginings of same sex desire in an
era of prohibition you know we live in an era which is much less prohibitive
than it used to be but it really was an important imaginative resource and a
space of identification for men who loved men in the 18th and 19th centuries
and so as someone who’s interested in the various ways in which classical material
has been used in the modern world that seemed to me a really a really important
area that was worth exploring I think the other thing comes from queerness as
being contrary to norms as living outside and against norms and I’m very aware
in my own research you know through the whole history of my research and its
graduate days i have been quite interested in or felt fascinated by exploring
the sort of cultural production and cultural activity of people who’ve been
marginalised in the societies to which they belong so i’ve done a lot of work
on Jewish intellectuals, I’ve worked on Winkelmann and sort of connected with
his queerness and more recently I’ve been working on classics and race in
various ways you know and there’s an element of contranormativity in my own
identity in that I’m the child of a Black African Caribbean mother and a White
Anglo Irish father and I’ve grown up as a minority in Britain you know I’m a
Black British person but I’m definitely a racialized minority in my home
society so I do wonder if there are just some kind of points of interest and
identity in studying marginalised or identities that have been marginalised
that might be part of my connection to this topic as well.
George Stokes 07:50
Really fascinating I always think it’s interesting to try and
work out why people are actually interested like a device interested in the
things they’ve been interested in for so long
yeah and it’s I mean there’s a lot of academic work we’re sort
of taught or can be taught in school in university to have this pose of
objectivity but i think some of the most interesting history, some of the most
interesting academic work comes from a fascination and curiosity and a passion
which can relate to various kinds of identification or a sense of something in
common and of course that can lead you astray as well if you think that you
understand and completely empathise with a different viewpoint but yeah there
has to be some kind of passion or some kind of enthusiasm to carry you through
in this kind of kind of work I think if you don’t mind me saying I think that’s
also something that came through for both of you when we were interviewing you
for the UROP, we were quite keen Mark and I to recruit some students for whom yeah
it was clear that it sort of meant more than just a sort of tick on the CV you
know and you both impressed us intellectually but also you know both gave us
some idea that you had some kind of connection to the subject which would mean
that you maybe did it in a kind of I don’t want to say in a respectful way but
you know that there will be a kind of spirit of respect in the project which
was really about giving a kind of identity and a status to lives that were
marginalised in their own time and have perhaps been forgotten by history
Amy Hitchings 09:27
being mindful of what you’re actually looking at and the kind
of content that you’re actually kind of covering definitely
that’s right and that’s what one of the things that it’s
really important to bear in mind I think when you’re working on the histories
of people who’ve been marginalised or criminalised it’s one of the things that
I think it’s really important in historical working queer history as well
because you have to both sometimes pay attention to the fact that sexuality and
gender are constructed differently at different historical periods. So there’s
not an obvious identity between people of the past and people of a present
because our identities work in different ways, but also do justice to the fact
that some of these figures from the past and these identities from the past
have this important, ancestral relationship to identities in the present. So
for me, you know, Winkelmann in some ways, I think his discourses of queer
desire and identity have been misinterpreted by figures like Carpenter and
Wilde and belated tradition. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be just
someone coming along go, No, no, no, that’s anachronistic. Because even though
there’s some kind of slippage there, there’s also an important connection. And
so working out how we pay attention to the difference, but also the relevance
of past queer identities to present queer identities. I think it’s a big
challenge of this work.
George Stokes 10:55
This ties in with the work that Support U does as well,
definitely. And so many people that we’ve talked to, in connection with the
project have said that they feel a real sense of belonging when they, when they
come across the sort of material that we’re talking about, among these
individuals in our study, say a really interesting an a big question.
Yeah, I think that’s really that’s really precious. And it’s
really, really important for academic researchers to be mindful of that.
George Stokes 11:29
So, a little while ago, you talked a bit about John Addington
Symonds and Edward Carpenter, and a number of the men in our study sort of fit
into that same sort of identity category of being well off and educated at Eton,
Oxford and Cambridge, as a scholar of classics, how do you think they would
have conceptualised their same sex desire? And do you think that their
classical study might link in with this?
I think one of the things that the classical tradition does,
is gives a language for the expression of desire between men and love between
men. And we certainly see people like Oscar Wilde, using that language,
famously. Classics, was an accepted part of the curriculum in schools and universities,
works of classical literature were admired, considered to be part of you know,
the best that has been fought and said, as Matthew Arnold put it, I may have
just misquoted Arnold, I’m not sure. But hey. And, of course, classical texts
give us many scenes of characters talking about love and friendship between men
and talking about erotic love between men. Plato’s dialogues for Symposium and
the Phaedrus in particular, are really sort of classical topics for that, so So
what classics gave, and particularly Hellenism was, I guess, a language which
was explicitly celebratory, and praising of love between men. It’s, I guess, an
ambiguous language. It’s not always explicitly sexual. And therefore, it shades
into questions of notions of friendship, or notions of a spiritual or an
intellectual connection, which is not necessarily a physical connection. But
sometimes, as in Plato’s phaedrus. It also involves physical connection and
erotic connection. And I suppose it it gave a common language, but it also and
I think this is quite important in an age of prohibition, it was important that
it was an ambiguous language, so that certain aspects of erotic connection
between men could also be disavowed, as well as hinted at. I guess I would sum
it up by saying the role of the role of Hellenism, the role of classicism was
to provide a kind of licence discourse, which really presented a kind of
positive picture of love between men, there are problems with it. One problem
is obviously the paederastic paradigm of some classical literature, not the
only form of homoerotic attraction that we find in these texts. But one is
clearly attraction between an older man and a much younger man, perhaps someone
who’s on the verge of adulthood. But there are other relationships portrayed in
classical literature that don’t seem to fit that model, like the relationship
between Achilles and Patroclus. Patroclus is older than Achilles, but perhaps
not that much older. Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. The military virtues
as well of Greek love, I think were important the fact that it was portrayed as
heroic as something that might motivate men to fight for those they loved in
battles, so it connected with certain conceptions of masculinity, which were
also attractive I think, especially in the Victorian period. Again, we might
think some of those conceptions of masculinity are a bit of an imprisoning cage
now you know – should masculinity be associated with military heroism you know
or is that a trap for men but it had all of those it had all of those
connotations and had all of those resonances Yeah.
George Stokes 15:20
interesting what you said about masculinity – I suppose
masculinity sort of is a legitimiser for these people in some ways and that
different types of people are using masculinity as a way of saying okay
same-sex sex is okay as well as sort of conceptualising their sort of lack of
masculinity as like sort of crucial element in their same sex desire and this
is something we talked to Amy Austin a PhD student at Reading who works on
gender identity is different ways of seeing sexuality at the same time
great I’m glad that you’ve spoken to Amy about that I think
it’s very interesting to look at the debates that were going on between the 1870s
and the 1890s and again the ways in which they are helpful in terms of thinking
about gender and sexual definition and the ways in which they are perhaps
unhelpful. So if one thinks about Karl Heinrich Ulrichs who was a German legal
scholar who was one of the early campaigners against the Prussian code that was
adopted in Germany that criminalised sodomy. Ulrichs essentially came out in
protest against that law. He, the way in which he conceptualised his desire for
men was to say that he was a female soul trapped in a male body very famous
very famous quotation from Ulrichs. I mean maybe it maybe he did feel feminine
internally in terms of his gender, but it seemed almost as if he could only
conceive of desire between men as occurring if one of the men was not in fact a
man. So this question of the entanglement versus the separation of gender
identity from sexual desire is if you like a kind of a historical achievement I
think that we now I say we but of course there’s a lot of difference of opinion
that exists in the world but the idea that the gender of your object you desire
does not necessarily say anything about your own gender identity is not
necessarily something we find in the 19th century or that’s something that
emerges from this context and I think it’s quite you know it’s quite as quite
an important thing that emerges from this context
George Stokes 17:39
yeah we’ve we’ve tried to keep that sort of in mind but we’re
also mindful of the fact that if we look at someone like Ulrichs who talks about
his differences in gender and we look at someone who doesn’t necessarily say
anything about that and we look about a criminal archive we look at someone
who’s been convicted of sex with another man and we’re mindful that maybe
there’s something playing with gender there in the sort of same way as the sort
of discourses about gender at the time. But although we can sort of see and we
can maybe this is has something to do with gender identity we can’t say for
definite this is a trans person or we can say as a trans identity which sort of
means that then we exclude potentially trans people from our archival research
and i’m wondering what you think of the roles that archives and record offices
have to try and diversify the narratives they sort of hold and represent before
that happens before the archiving happens when you have to try and impose
someone’s identity on them to sort of record the whole existence beforehand and
have really diverse narratives explicitly
that’s a really interesting question and I think it’s a really
important one I mean there’s there’s two perspectives that you gave in in your
question George. One was about researchers and what what we do face with
material that’s in the archive and the other one is perhaps about what
archivist should do and what their collections and archiving policy in the
present should be. Yeah I am not an archivist so I hope you put that question
to Mark Stevens. I do think that it’s important for archives and museums in the
present to pursue diverse and inclusive collecting and archiving policies and I
hope that you know the historians of the future 100 years on will feel that
we’ve been better at this than the archivists at the end of the 19th century
where every archive is selective of course but i think there certainly are
efforts afoot to collect a much wider variety of material, to collect things
like oral history testimonies to collect ephemera. Also you know artistic and
citizen curated projects and to Give you know much more of a kind of wide angle
slice of life and to collect really, really rich material which can be
interpreted in different ways. So you can’t capture everything. But you can
attempt to capture inclusively. Another aspect of that is then cataloguing and
storing data in ways which render it discoverable. And there’s a lot of work
going on, especially in the digital humanities realm about how to do that. And
how to think about the categories that we use when we’re cataloguing and
structuring data, which are not necessarily identical with the actors
categories, but historical actors use, but which might allow people to do very
complex searches for material. As researchers, what do we do when we’re looking
at a historical archive, I guess we have to be aware, first of all, of the ways
in which archives are partial, something like an archive of criminal law is
only aimed at capturing, you know, certain aspects of events or certain aspects
of personalities that are involved, I think I would urge you in, in our write up
similarities that we produce around the past to be open to recording the
different possibilities, the possibility that this may have been a trans
person, although we can’t tell for sure, we can write in ways I think if we’re
adequately reflective, that lay open those possibilities and create room for
people feeling that, you know, perhaps as a point of identification here,
without absolutely closing it down and concluding more than we can from from
uncertain evidence. So you know, visit this is a big area, the other thing I
would say is I have in recent years become increasingly interested in, in
creative work that engages with the gaps in the archives. And I think there’s a
lot that can be done by creative historical work, whether that’s through
theatre, whether it’s through art, whether it’s through poetry, which points to
the gaps, points to the desire to fill them, and in a way fills them without
claiming that it’s absolutely historically beyond a doubt true what is being
Amy Hitchings 22:10
Yes, Katherine. And that’s something that a person that we’re
working with Tim Alsop, with the Queer Rural Connections project has been very
kind of, you know, has talked a lot about this, the kind of the filling of the
gaps and how, you know, making sure to still present, these are gaps. And these
are creative interpretations, but providing that kind of maybe resource for
other people to actually see and to engage with. And as George said earlier,
the kind of belonging that can then actually come from these narratives and
seeing these narratives in place. Yeah, I can I completely agree that and I
just thought I would ask you, you spoke a little bit at the start of the
podcast about your work in terms of classics and race. And I just wondered if
you could talk a little bit more to our listeners about the work that you’re
doing at the moment. And if there’s anything you know, that you’re wanting to
maybe say it’s happening, any exciting projects or anything?
Not a leading question at all is it?
Amy Hitchings 23:05
Definitely not leading in there at all.
Well, I talked early on in the interview about how perhaps
some of my engagement with queer classics came from myself belonging to a kind
of historically marginalised group in relation to my Caribbean ancestry. And I
think one of the things I’ve realised through also doing other kinds of
equality and diversity work in the university is that it can sometimes be
easier to advocate for a group to which you don’t belong to a group to which
you do belong. Because it is so can be so personal and can be so freighted with
meaning. But I am very aware that I’m one of the only Black Classics Professors
in the UK. And I also really care about racial equality. And in recent years, I
think I have been brave enough to let the spotlight on race and classical
reception fall into into my own work and in my own output a bit. So I’m working
on two things at the moment, which I’m quite excited about. One is I’m actually
working on an article with Dr Mathura Umachandran, who’s a British classicist
of Sri Lankan heritage, who’s currently a postdoc at Cornell. And we really
connected over cricket, because of course, cricket was part of my Caribbean
heritage and my English Heritage and part of (EDIT) her Tamil heritage. And so
we’re writing a piece together right now about the interplay of classics and
cricket and colonialism in the work of CLR James who is a Trinidadian Marxist
and anti colonial intellectual, who spent his life between the United States
and the UK and Trinidad. He wrote a cricketing memoir ‘Beyond the boundary’,
which is really about cricket and politics and colonialism. So we’re working on
that together, and that’s very fun. And the other thing I’m doing is making a
BBC Radio four programme about classics and race, which hopefully will be
broadcast in late May so do look out for that!
Amy Hitchings 25:02
yeah we’ll we’ll include all of the links that we can do in
the show notes so that the listeners would like to follow up they can
definitely i’m sure they will be interested and but yes thank you so much for
joining us today katherine I really really appreciate you being here and
speaking to our listeners and we really appreciate your expertise in this area
too so thank you very much
you’re very welcome thank you for having me on your show!
EDIT – 15TH JUL 2021: Dr Mathura Umachandran has advised that her pronouns are she/hers and that her heritage should be listed as Tamil. We have made this adjustment in the transcript file as it is important to us that pronouns and heritage are accurately reflected for participants and we will always correct errors when identified.
George Stokes, Mark Stevens, Amy Hitchings
Amy Hitchings 00:00
Today, we are here with Mark Stevens. So Mark is the County Archivist for Berkshire and works at the Berkshire Record Office in Reading, where amongst other things, he looks after the archives for various Berkshire criminal courts and those of Redding jail. Mark also writes about Victoria mental health and has published two books, Broadmoor revealed and life in the Victorian asylum. The more information about the Berkshire Record Office, there’ll be included in the show notes, but we are delighted to welcome Mark Stevens to the break and future seminar series so thank you for being here.
Mark Stevens 00:31
Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure to join you.
Amy Hitchings 00:35
So I’ll get started with our initial question. So the Broken Futures project was piloted through a Undergraduate Research Opportunities Project, which is a University of Reading scheme for second year students to be involved in active research, and UK supervised in 2018, a project with George and myself, a student researchers, and I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit more about where that initial idea came from?
Mark Stevens 00:57
Yeah the initial idea, I think you can probably trace back actually to 2014. An exhibition called Oscar Wilde and reading jail with the English Lit department to the University of Reading, and particularly with Professor Peter Stoneley and we were interested in doing something about Wilde, but also we were quite interested to try and put Wilde into context, because, you know, we knew he was one person who had been imprisoned in the jail for commissions of the offences of gross indecency, but we didn’t really know anything else about either people who who’ve been imprisoned for the same thing. or, indeed, the wider cohort of reading jail prisoners that Wilde have been a jail with the exhibition, we did some research about that. And Peter managed to identify various people who had been prisoners in the jail that Oscar Wilde sent money to, after he’d left. And Peter wrote an article about that there’s an article in the Journal of Victorian Culture about that. And really, that sort of led us to think well, that actually, you could probably do an awful lot of this in terms of trying to provide some sort of narrative of the life of the prisoners that Oscar Wilde had been inside with, and indeed, across the wider range of prisoners who have been inside Victorian and Edwardian Reading Jail. So that was the genesis of the project. And as you two will know, we’ve got three photograph albums of mug shots of what’s considered to be habitual criminals as the way the Victorians described them during the Victorian and the Edwardian period. And we thought, well, wouldn’t it be nice to try and get a little biography of everybody in these albums. But as you will also know, that is a huge amount of work, you know, you’re talking about potentially hundreds of people. So to make it a slightly smaller project, we thought, why don’t we look at people who’ve been persecuted for same-sex offences, so to deal with sort of Oscar, but Oscar in context, people who had been before the courts, charged with similar offences, and what their experience of it not just in the jail, but also their wider experience of life as well to try and paint a sort of rounded picture of them rather than somebody who had just been up before the magistrates one day, which is where you two came in. Because Katherine Harloe over at the University of Reading was interested in this too. And so Katherine, and I put together the UROP bid, we were able to have both of you researching at the record office and elsewhere for six weeks over the summer of 2018. Yeah, yeah. And of course, you did what we hoped for, and that you found that there were plenty of other people who had had suffered the same fate that Wilde had suffered. And that you’re also able to tell us something about their lives as well to put them into context. And to give a picture of individuals who, you know, probably been largely forgotten by history now, but actually presented alternative stories, to be a counterbalance to Wilde’s own. And to give you more of a rounded feel of of the men because it’s all men who had been charged with these these crimes during Victorian England, their social background, the way they’ve lived their lives, that sort of thing, which I thought was really worthwhile because, yeah, really the history of the jail there’s a history of sort of excluded people in Berkshire. And as you know, from looking through prison registers, you know, it’s not just LGBT offences, you can find their but you’ll find people committing breadline crimes, you’ll find the vagrants and prostitutes who’s walk around Berkshire. So you’ve got an awful lot of detail about people that history otherwise he’s not likely to record and the possibility of using what’s quite a negative archive, you know the basis of their criminal history, but to draw a bigger and rounded picture of their lives. It’s something that’s really quite attractive, but I thought it was at the time. And I think what you two found, and how you’ve been taking this on in this new project demonstrates how worthwhile it’s been.
Amy Hitchings 05:12
I was quite shocked when there, we saw lots of instances where mothers had, you know, had issues with their children or those, you know, death reports of a mother, you know, killing the child and things like that. And it was quite, it was quite shocking to see those. So yes, I completely agree that the, the prison registers definitely show you kind of maybe an uncovered history of different behaviours, activities. Yeah, definitely.
George Stokes 05:38
Mark, you’ve touched a bit on the actual records themselves. See, I’ve research relied heavily on the registers of the Prison and the printed calendars of prisoners. But if you could just tell us a bit about why these documents are actually in your collections at the Berkshire Record Office.
Mark Stevens 05:54
So the reason we have documents like the court records and the prison records in our collection is because effectively, we’re like a community archives for the Royal county of Berkshire. And part of that is taking in records that public authorities that do their work in the county. So you know, the court system, it’s been going in different forms for many years, and the Calendars of Prisoners that you looked at, were all produced by old fashioned criminal courts, which are called assizes, and quarter sessions, all now mixed up in crown courts today. But they produce lists effectively, of the people who were in custody, and we’re coming before them to be tried. And so you get, you get a little bit of biographical details in those you know, they tell you, where somebody came from, what their age was, what their occupation was, and they tell you what the sentence of the court was, as well. So similarly, with the prison that records me, the prison, although these days, we’re sorry, these days, it’s shut before it was shut, it was a home office institution. But when it was built, it was built by the magistrates of the County of Berkshire, as a county jail. And so again, it’s records form part of the records we’ve inherited from the county over that time. So when we look after, we’ve sort of like, a mix, really, you get all these public authority records, these bodies that create official documents, and which we tend to end up with because we’re the appropriate place to store them. But then also, about half of our collections actually come from private concern. So you know, businesses, charities, clubs and societies. The idea being that the collections I look after, although they’re publicly funded, actually, they’re going to try and reflect all of life that goes on throughout the county, across the many centuries that are Berkshire communities have kept recorded records.
George Stokes 07:48
How are these records stored? And what sort of restrictions are in place around them? Obviously, these records are quite sensitive in some cases.
Mark Stevens 07:57
Yeah. So some of the archives we look after are quite, quite sensitive in terms of the person information they contain. And so yet again, you two will know that when you start looking at things like the prison records, we very consciously took a decision to stop at the Edwardian period, as partly due to this what survives of the Prison. But also because we were aware we were going to get into the problems of living people. And and how do you? How do you tell the stories of living people I mean, it you know, it’s an area that’s fraught with difficulty. So actually, it’s, it’s easier to think about people that have gone, those restrict types of restrictions are in place across many of the archives that I hold, you know, that we were allowed to keep personal data. But we have to be very careful about the way that we manage it and careful about the way we disclose it. And that’s why you tend to find that the sort of history is like the ones we did with the UROP project, they’ll come up to the Victorian and Edwardian period, but they, they’ll struggle to come further up than that. And that’s when you start to rely effectively on living testimony or, or living memory about things instead of the official record, because the official record will be restricted unless individuals consent to their own data being disclosed.
George Stokes 09:20
As you said, we focus more on the older records, and paper doesn’t last indefinitely. Can you tell us a bit more about the work that’s been done on these records by the Berkshire Record Office’s team of conservators.
Mark Stevens 09:32
So in terms of protecting terms of the jail archive, actually, what we inherited, I’ve no idea where it was kept in the prison. But as you can imagine, I mean, although record keeping is important, in a jail, it’s not the most important activity. So some of the material that came into this was in a really bad way. And we were very fortunate that we applied to the Wellcome Trust, who had funding available for what’s called creating research resources in medical history and medical history is drawn vary widely. So the jail fits in in terms of the idea of health, not least because it’s health in a custodial environment, which is course is quite different, and has different challenges to the community health. And so we pitched something to the Wellcome saying that actually, this collection is quite good. It’s quite full. But it needs a bit of TLC. And we were able to get money from them to employ a professional book and paper conservator for nine months who came in and not only did paper repair to some dreadfully damp damage papers to stabilise them and make them usable again, but rebound books that were falling apart and made the whole collection usable for research purposes, I think, did you you both came in and looked at material after it was conserved? Is that correct?
Amy Hitchings 10:54
I think I think we saw material, I think we saw some material that was in the process or about to be conserved. And then I think most of the criminal criminal records were actually conserved. When I went back last year, though, in 2020, I noticed that the prison registers had had more support put in place, because I know they were water damaged quite badly. And some of the paper had been kind of Yeah, I think, well, this is me trying to know conservation techniques. And I definitely don’t know those. So yeah, I had seen before and I think we saw after as well. And yeah, did some great work. There’s a lot of damage.
Mark Stevens 11:33
I mean, it’s, you know, I mean, mercifully most things, even some things that can be centuries of years old, they’re actually quite Hardy. Yeah, the materials are often quite good if you go back in time, but if something has suffered, particularly water damage, or fire damage, you know, it’s amazing how much damage can be done. And then, as you say, the the the intensity of the work that you have to do to make these materials, usable again, but but I think, again, I think it’s worthwhile, you know, the prison registers that you’re talking about, I mean, they’re effectively the lists of who was admitted to the jail. And again, it gives you biographical details, it tells you what happened to them at the end of their sentence, is information that’s not going to survive anywhere else. So, so to be able to make these things usable again, so people can extract that information, and better understand the jail and, and how it worked. And also the wider social history of Berkshire in particular during that period is worthwhile. So thank you very much. Wellcome.
Amy Hitchings 12:33
Yes, thank you very much to Wellcome. Yeah,
George Stokes 12:35
yes. So we’ve been talking a lot about the records of physical documents. And obviously, we’re recording this podcast during a national lockdown. So access to your collections isn’t so easy at the moment. And once the restrictions are lifted, if anyone wants to view these collections, what’s the process for them to do it?
Mark Stevens 12:55
You’re absolutely right. I mean, along with most of the country at the moment we are with with shut, and nobody can come in and look at things. But we will be allowed to reopen again. And when people come in to use material in our in our office, it’s free. You know, I mean, people just come in, you can browse the catalogues, you can do that on the premises, you can do that online. And it works. And I always say to people, it works a little bit like the way argos used to work, you too, are far too young to remember this. But in that the way I got used to work is that you, you went in you, you got a little pencil and paper, you wrote a reference of something you wanted on that piece of paper, handed it at the desk, and then somebody went and fetched it for you. That’s the way that archives work. So so you know, you can come in and look at anything, the only thing I would say to people is you probably need to research question. Because, you know, there’s hundreds of 1000s of things in our collections. And I mean, you know, I mean, realistically I who worked there for decades, will never look at everything. So you need to know what it is you’re interested in. But certainly if you’re interested in the jail, then there’s much there is probably about 150 200 items to deal with the from the jail archive. And again, if you’re interested in particular things like if you want to come in and look at the prison registers that we’ve been talking about, you can do so you can do so whenever you like Tuesdays to Fridays, between the hours of nine to five
George Stokes 14:27
Thank you for that plug Mark!
Amy Hitchings 14:31
amazing descriptor of the Argos. That was fantastic. So our research relied a lot on Prison registers of Her Majesty’s prison regime. And do you think it is important to restore reading jails a site of queer heritage? So is it necessary to preserve historical buildings like jails, which have been a site of punishment and maybe misery for for those that were in prison, they’re given the potential Banksy this week on the side of the Reading Jail. You know, do we is it Important to restore reading jails a site of queer heritage.
Mark Stevens 15:05
I think definitely in terms of the jail, there’s lots of people who are interested in it for different reasons. And I think things like jails, and things like jails are so difficult. You know, it’s a difficult history, there’s history that can be upsetting to a lot of people, people may have very mixed feelings about this place. And I guess what you, I guess what you need to do is you need to, you need to try and preserve things that are important. So I would say the jail is important, it’s important, because it’s a predominant County, it’s this very dominant county building, it was open for 170 odd years, and lots of local people will pass through it. But what you have to do, I guess, is just make sure you’re not been exploiting what might be people’s painful memories of the place and just being sensitive about the fact that people will probably have very different views about it. And I think for, whoever does take on the site and do something with it, these are the challenges they’re going to have to deal with, they’re going to have to think that that people will probably come to this site, having quite different, and a wide range of emotions about it, and making sure that they they at least appreciate that in whatever they do to it. I mean, it’s the same challenge for for archives, you know, I mean, I think, you know, there’s a lot of talk about sort of you know contested histories and different sort of feelings of exclusion at the moment, you know, certain groups may not be represented in certain ways. And the challenge for us really, is to try and gain people’s trust, first I think. Before we can, we can hope to do anything about doing that. Because we do you know, as community archive, we very much want to reflect everybody’s feelings and everybody’s viewpoints. But you can’t just state that’s what you’re going to do you have to bring people with you if you’re going to achieve that successfully. And I’m sure that will be the case with whoever develops the jail as well.
Amy Hitchings 17:18
Leading on from that question, you touched on it a little bit there, but what specific role do you think archives and record offices have to diversify the historical narratives they hold within their records?
Mark Stevens 17:30
Yeah. So at the moment archives, indeed, the whole heritage sector is really grappling with the idea about how you reflect diverse histories. And I think, I think one of the things we need to do is work on trying to get different people to trust us, I think, we are seen and to a certain extent, quite rightly, as being part of the establishment. I mean, my office was set up by the six Berkshire authorities, it’s got its roots in not just Victorian England. But going further back to Tudor England, you know, I mean, it’s, it’s very much an establishment thing. So. So if I’m going to make sure that I can reflect all the different communities in Berkshire, the first thing I have to try and do is win their trust. And I think that’s going to, that’s not a quick thing. I think that’s that’s something which is going to take a while to do. But obviously, it’s important to do because I want to make sure that the collections reflect the communities as were as now as will be, and that we managed to get everybody included. I think the other thing, which your question suggests that which you will have found as well, is that almost certainly there is more diversity, they have collections that were aware of. And it’s finding people that is just such a challenge, because we’re talking about an era where we’ve only got the written word to go on. And how do you know so much about these people when you only have the written word and so the men that you found in the prison registers are just a great example of that, you know, we I mean, we knew nothing about their sexuality until you happened to come across them, and you came across them because there’s a record that’s very definitely talking about that. But you know, all those people who didn’t come up before the Berkshire bench, but share those same sexualities, how do we find them? It’s such a challenge.
Amy Hitchings 19:17
It is a definite challenge and, and trying to locate them within the records and then taking that further into other genealogical research or newspaper research, again, brings its difficult issues as well. So yeah, you’re very right, they are quite hidden and need to be brought out and just out of interest. So you touched on this at the start, but due to the fact that only sexual activity between males was historically prosecuted, no women are obviously trans people appear within the records that we’ve located, people of colour also underrepresented within the research. Do you think there is more to do with it heritage to make sure our archives preserved the histories of all communities?
Mark Stevens 19:59
Yes. There’s definitely more to be done about making sure. I think it’s two things. I think it’s not only that we do try and preserve the archives of different communities. And I think this comes back to the trust question that I was talking about early. First of all, we have to be trusted to look after these histories before anybody is going to allow us to do so. But then the other thing is that almost certainly these communities are within the existing holdings. But teasing, teasing out their stories is hard. And I think one of the criticisms of that you can make in history in general is that it’s like many subjects, it’s always tended to go to the easy answers. So if something’s easy to research, it’s just human nature, isn’t it? That’s what people will put their effort into trying to find an identify people that you know, are out there. But it’s very, very difficult to track down is an awful lot harder than just identifying people who are easy to identify. And I think that’s probably the challenge for us in terms of the way we communicate about our holdings, and also trying to encourage researchers to spend that time because it may prove valuable and I’m what I’m hoping is that the project that we did with the UROP in which you’ve now taken on with Broken Futures, is a good piece of evidence for demonstrating that it is worth putting this extra time in, because you will find something that we didn’t know before. And actually, as a result of that, you can tell a really interesting piece of history. That’s new and original for people.
Amy Hitchings 21:32
Definitely, definitely, in 2017, the policing and crime Act provided a piece humorous pardon and provided the UK government with the power to provide pardons and disregards for living persons. This may mean that some of the men that we’ve covered within that historical convictions may actually have received a pardon, what your opinions on the post humorous pardoning of historical convictions, especially given the difficulty, as you say, with never knowing exactly what the specific details of the offence were, given that it happened in history.
Mark Stevens 22:04
I think you’re absolutely right. I think actually, probably everybody you’ve found certainly after the First World War, but now I’ve been technically posthumously pardoned. I think that is correct. And as you say, I suppose I suppose what made it one of the difficult things we found I know when we’ve you to started doing the project, is that not everybody who was convicted of a sexual offence, then may necessarily be considered the same. Now. An ideal Oscar Wilde is a good example of that isn’t even Oscar Oscar will have been posthumously pardoned. But yet in a world of Me Too, to what extent is Oscar somebody that that actually people still want to nail their covers to I suppose he’s, he’s, you know, it’s these questions of exploitation, I suppose, isn’t it? You know, and and there’s a difference between the legal definition of having committed an offence and what morally society may consider acceptable at any time. I’m sure in the people that you found, you’re going to have examples of this sort of thing. I think probably what the law change in 2017 was telling us is that actually, rather than concentrate on that, to start with the important thing was to acknowledge the fact that the law had been wrong in past times, and I think that’s what the 2017 change has achieved. And then we can debate individual cases at leisure, subsequently.
Amy Hitchings 23:33
I think that’s it, isn’t it. But in terms of on an individual case basis, that pardon becomes a lot more difficult for finding out the actual kind of facts of the case and what actually happened within it. Yes, definitely. And just as a final question, are there any exciting projects at the Berkshire Record Office? Where are you currently working on over there?
Mark Stevens 23:56
At the moment, the record office is about to have a Thames exhibition. So I mean, I’m very, very fond of the river. The river is a hugely important thing for the county because historically it was the northern boundary all the way up to Farringdon in the northeast northwest corner. So one of the collections that we look after is the archive of what was called the Thames Conservancy, and the Thames Conservancy effectively managed the upper river, all the way from its source in Gloucestershire until where it becomes tidal it stains. And it did that with previous sets of bodies from 1771 to 1974. So 200 years span, and again, we had some money from a funder called Archives Revealed to catalogue this archive. And we’re going to celebrate it this May, because may 2021, is the 250th anniversary of the first meeting, something called the Thames navigation commission that effectively built the river that we know today.
Amy Hitchings 24:58
That’s fascinating Mark that is absolutely fascinating. Well, thank you so much for being part of the Broken Futures seminar series. Everything you’ve said has been so interesting. And so exciting. So thank you so much for being part of it today. And yeah, I’ve just just wondered if you want to say if there was any places where people could find you. Are you on Twitter, is the Berkshire record office on Twitter?
Mark Stevens 25:23
Yeah, if anybody wants to find us Berkshire record offices on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram, I have to say I don’t do these things but my colleagues very happily do. And there is a website as well berkshirerecordoffice.org.uk. So please do come and browse through the catalogue and see what you can find.
Amy Hitchings 00:00
So welcome. Thank you so much for joining us here today, Emily, thank you to all of our listeners for listening. So I just thought as an initial question to you, Emily, could you tell us a little bit more about your background and what got you interested in queer heritage?
Dr Emily Rutherford 00:14
Yeah, and I’ll say, thanks so much for having me. It’s great, great to be here. And so I really came to in like, an interesting queer history out of a kind of a personal search for a usable queer past, like when I was, you know, from when I was 15 ish. And I sort of started initially by locating that in the late 20th century United States because that seemed to me to be where I would find it. And I went to university and did a lot of modern US history at university. But then, really, by happenstance, I happened about halfway through university to do to discover John Addington Symonds, who, for the listeners at home, who may not know was basically the first person writing in English to develop the theory of homosexuality is something that you are rather than something that you do, and he just, he’s really remarkable, original thinker, and wrote in just an extremely compelling and, you know, thoughtful and knowledgeable way, and I just got totally captivated by him in his life and his writing. And I wrote a giant undergraduate thesis about him, which became later an academic article. And, and that was my way into British history is, and I’m a historian of modern Britain. And I’ve done you know, I did my masters and my PhD, and I’m now a postdoc working in British history, and the gender and sexuality more widely but but queer history, and the history of male homosexuality in particular is still really central to my work.
George Stokes 01:45
Brilliant, sounds absolutely fascinating and your work Symonds is really interesting. What do you think life would have been like for a man who desired other men in sort of Victorian and Edwardian England?
Dr Emily Rutherford 01:57
Yeah, I think it’s really difficult to generalise because it would have varied so much, depending on where in the country you lived, whether you live in a city or in a more rural area, or in a small town, and of course, your your class background, and other life experiences such as, you know, if you spent a lot of time in a home, a social institution, whether that’s a school, a prison, the military, the Navy, you know, any of these sort of institutions that, you know, some ways were more common than than they are now that sort of segregated men away from kind of wider mixed gender society, you might have had a different experience of kind of what you’re, what you’re coming into your sort of awareness of your sexuality was or your sort of, who was available for, for you to experiment sexually with when you were, say, an adolescent, right. And that meant that in different ways, depending on your class background and your life experience, like, you know, if you were a sort of elite man at a public school, versus if you were working class men who was in the army, right, like, but you might similarly have ways of thinking about same-sex sex and sexuality as kind of a life stage or, you know, something that was okay within certain contexts, or given a certain amount of latitude within certain contexts. But then it was pretty easy to cross the line where those contexts, sort of if you moved outside of those contexts, it could become less appropriate and liable to prosecution. I think we sometimes have a stereotype of like, an experience of unremitting prosecution, and that men who had sex with men constantly had to be afraid that they were going to be arrested or, you know, sort of hauled up in court or whatever. And my suspicion is that, you know, I’d be curious to what you found in your project, but like, my suspicion is that represents a minority of experiences, and also that sex was policed in some contexts more than others, right, like sex that was happening, like sex that had happened for money, sex, that happened in public spaces, was more liable to prosecution. And that means that people are impacted unevenly by that right? A working class man, who maybe doesn’t have privacy at home, right lives, maybe with his family, and, and or maybe is having sex for money, right is going to be in a much more vulnerable position than an elite man who has a private home, who’s sort of insulated by networks of power. So I think it’s important to keep those variations in mind. And it does when you start digging into it, I think it does become a very complex, complex patchwork of stories.
Amy Hitchings 04:23
Definitely, definitely. And that’s definitely something that we find, you know, definitely the kind of minimal idea of criminalization and, you know, the fact that there is lots of examples of human social environments and, you know, sex between men that is just not located and found definitely, and we’ve also seen, you know, specifically with private actors and things like that the role of you know, witnesses in terms of this. So we have a particular story where there is two individuals, in a house that is actually rented by another person by a landlord, and it’s the landlord that then is actually the witness. He actually goes to the extent of climbing up the side of a house on a ladder to pair through blinds in the actual window. And then the same way he drills a hole in the room above to actually see what’s happening in the room below. And that private actor actually kind of warranting that testimony and bringing about it. Yeah, that’s something we definitely see
Dr Emily Rutherford 05:16
if they can see that like, like, one of the things that’s important there is, you know, if you’ve got a legal regime where you have to prove that sodomy took place in order to convict someone, right, like something like that eyewitness testimony is going to become essential to securing a conviction. But if you don’t have that, it’s actually going to maybe be rather difficult to secure a conviction.
Amy Hitchings 05:35
Exactly. We found a lot of instances where it ends up in no bill, you know, or it ends up where they’re found not guilty. And there’s like, you know, discussions in the newspapers where they’re saying things like, you know, this can’t be brought forward. And if you do talk about this in the court, you need to make sure that you are seriously wanting to bring this conviction, because to talk about this alone would be quite damaging for the individual’s reputation itself. So yeah, I think it’s quite interesting, isn’t it the different different approaches and definitely the different things that you see from the archives that come out of that? And I just thought, you know, leading on from this question, some of the men in our study were actually well off educated at Eton, Oxford and Cambridge. What do you think the differences are between the ways in which these men would have conceptualised their same sex desire compared to other farm labourers, perhaps that have moved in different social circles?
Dr Emily Rutherford 06:23
Yes, so this is a theme that, is actually really significant in my research, Eton in Berkshire, it’s an important case study in my research, and one of the things that’s characteristic of that institution, and also most of the boys secondary schools that exists in England prior to Universal secondary education in 1944. Right, so most most of those schools have a curriculum that’s in some way grounded in the ancient classics. Also, before universal secondary education, you know, no more than 20% of the population is going to secondary school. So that’s a pretty elite subset of people. And they all boys, basically, who go to secondary school are encountering some Latin, perhaps in a more elite school, also some Greek. So just in a really light, literal way. Let’s again, take Eton as an example. It’s not a super representative example. But it’s representative of some things. Your experience, if you like, leave Eton at 17/18/19 is that basically for the last 10 previous years, you’ve been relentlessly drilled in Greek and Latin grammar. And that’s basically the extent of your education now that it’s not a very well rounded education in a lot of ways. But what it means is that you can then open, you know, Plato’s symposium, and maybe you don’t have a good English translation of that, or maybe you have a translation that has changed the pronouns, which a lot of Victorian translations did. But you can, you know, you have the tool that allows you to access in Plato in Greek lyric poetry in Latin poetry, descriptions of male same-sex sex and love and desire, you can just see in a really kind of literal way that that was a thing that happened in antiquity. So what I’m saying is that that was like, a way that lots of elite men had access to the knowledge that that were other men in the past and in the present, who desired men and they weren’t alone, etc, etc, they developed a conception of themselves. What that means, though, is that they are accessing this set of social norms around same sex desire and sex that pertained in antiquity, that often emphasised age unequal relationships, like a sort of a man desiring or pursuing or courting a boy, who probably was like in his mid to late teens, we call that pederasty, paiderastia In Greek, love of boys, literally. That’s the paradigm that’s operative like in Plato, for example. It comes up in Plato’s Republic, which is a super normative, not super sexualized, right text that probably a lot of men in secondary school would have encountered. So they, you know, they would have seen that, and therefore, a lot of elite men are sort of working with pederasty. With that age on equal paradigm, it’s kind of the normative paradigm for how they’re thinking about what seems exercise, right? So they see that they relate to that in some way. They say, oh, like, I relate to this, I must be a pederast right? Or, you know, they’re sort of imagining from the get go, that their desire, like if they’re younger, when they first encountered that they’re imagining that they’re gonna might have a relationship with an older man. And, you know, as they get older, they may be imagining that their relationships are gonna be younger men, not Incidentally, some of these men who write about this went into school teaching. You know, they’re sort of imagining this in an educational context. But then a lot of men who was the some men who initially kind of are working with that paradigm later move towards thinking about something that looks more like our modern conception of homosexuality, a more age equal paradigm and a paradigm that’s about kind of a congenital conception of sexuality, right that you it’s not as much a social institution as it would have been in Plato’s Athens, right? It’s something that’s intrinsic to you. You’re either born like that or develops an early childhood, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And you’re going to be attracted to probably people of your own age or social status or whatever. But I want to emphasise that it’s not like a switch flips. And we get our modern conception of homosexuality. There are lots of different paradigms that are operative in the late 19th and early 20th century for how different people are conceptualising same sex desire. And, you know, I think we know less about how working class people who, you know, may have written less about themselves and their desires and their relationships, you know, we’re, what paradigms they were drawing up, but we do know some things. And we do know also that some working class men, you know, we’re accessing kind of classicissed conceptions of homosexuality. And the idea that, you know, even if it’s not a super fine grained knowledge, or it’s not a knowledge that like is engaging directly with the classical languages, men saying, sometimes that kind of oversimplified way, but to be to be able to say, like, Oh, I know that in ancient Greece, like homosexuality was tolerated, right? That’s it. That’s the sort of thing that you hear people invoke. And you know, they didn’t call it homosexuality in ancient Greece, but that like today, right? They think that that function is something that was really powerful to people that they could point to and say, this allows me to understand my desires as something other than sinful. And of course, we can’t overstate the importance of religion and late 19th century Britain and shaping how people thought about this issue.
Amy Hitchings 11:14
That was absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much. I’m really and so very well put, definitely. I was just just interested in terms of that kind of looking back to antiquity, do you think it’s maybe perhaps a validation of the fact that you know, this kind of feeling that you have in yourself may then be able to be seen within other things during the validation part? Yeah, I think it’s a it’s a really interesting topic. And also just out of interest, I wondered if you in terms of charge, John Addington Symonds, how does he conceptualise the same sex desire and from his text.
Dr Emily Rutherford 11:51
And so he’s one of these people who really comes first to a pederasty paradigm. And the sort of emotional journey that I was articulating for you just a minute ago, is really Simmons his journey he, he comes to, he’s a student at Harrow, and then he goes to Oxford, he’s classic skills are good enough, really, that he can kind of second guess what he’s being taught. And he says, hang on a second, this love between men that’s being described in Plato’s symposium, a text that he seeks out independently, and like, you know, gets really excited by, they’re not just talking about friendship, right? They’re talking about something else here. And he has some arguments with his tutors at Oxford, you know, saying, You’re sort of writing this off as friendship, and it’s actually not that and we need to talk about that. So he’s, like, very brave and bold about putting that out there. And he in his, and then in his own life, and his own relationships, he really starts out by thinking in this pederastic paradigm. He, when he’s in his, I think, mid to late 20s, he has a relationship with like a 17 year old, which is something that we can do more to think through as a potentially problematic thing. And he writes, a lot of his early writing is about antiquity, a lot of it is related to homosexuality that is is about antiquity, it’s really historically rigorous, well informed account that actually is still one of the best accounts, as I say, a problem in Greek ethics, which was written in 1883 account of how different ancient culture it’s not about about same sex sexuality, but he moves over the course of his life and he dies very young. But he moves over the course of his short life to an understanding that’s more informed by the emerging field of sexology and sexual science and comes more to favour a age and status equal congenital paradigm from sexual identity actually, by the end of his life sometimes uses the word homosexuality alongside words like inversion or uranian. That said, the most significant long term relation of his of his life other than his relationship with his wife, who he was not super nice to was a relationship with a Venetian gondolier, whom he usually framed as a servant and did pay for sex. So that’s, again another sort of problematic aspect of Symonds and other elite men who, you know, we’re not always so committed to democracy and equality in their sexual relationships as they thought they were or as they wanted to be. You know, we don’t have any evidence from this gondolier, Angelo Fusato his perspective to know how he felt about this relationship. But But what’s important is the way that Symonds really in again, I think, a very creative and innovative way to bridge the sort of humanistic learning about antiquity together with sexual science and and constructed something that looks really remarkably like what becomes solidified in the 20th century as as the idea of homosexuality.
Amy Hitchings 14:48
Yeah, this relates, I think, quite a lot to some things that we found in the project where we have found convictions for 15 year olds with older men.You know, there’s a in certain instances, there is a clear discussion in the court where the judge is, you know, very much that the older person is the corruptor is the person that’s potentially, you know, designed this experience and has gone and sought out for it. And then has provided leniency for the younger person and has gone as so far to actually advocate on behalf of that young person. So I just thought, how, what do you think about that? Do you think there?
Dr Emily Rutherford 15:26
And I think it’s really tricky, right. On the one hand, this a lot, like I’ll say a few things about it. One is that it allows us to complicate our understanding of the patterns of prosecution. And, uh, you know, I think we’re reaching a growing understanding together in the community of scholars that, as I said before, not all men who had sex with men were prosecuted equally, and you know, a sodomy law or a gross indecency law might have more frequently been used to prosecute, you know, adults having sex with minors, that is to say there was not an age of consent for men in this period, right. And so these laws are sort of being kind of badly applied in some ways to create an age of consent, right? They’re being used to prosecute adults having sex with what we would now consider children, teens, minors, but not necessarily being used to prosecute kind of age equals sex that takes place in private right, they also might be used to prosecute sexual assaults, you know, between adults. So that’s one thing. But the other thing is, I’m very interested in my work in really trying in a better way to address this question of pederasty. And how it was entangled with what we now call homosexuality and how it became disentangled in the early 20th century. And it’s a really tricky, like, you know, political and moral and historical question, I think we need to be upfront and honest about the age unequal sex and relationships that did exist and the way that different power dynamics and class and money and stuff like that played into them, and Empire and race, also super important. But we also don’t want to fall into really crappy, homophobic stereotypes about gay men being predators. You know, I think the thing that’s not very interesting about scholarship that is tying itself in not to pass to, like, make very clear, you know, like, obviously, I do not approve of adults having sex with children, but like, I don’t want to really necessarily read an article that is like bending over backwards to just say, over and over again, by the way, I, the historian, do not approve of adults having sex with children, like I think that we can do good scholarship that is historically rigorous, and documents what actually happened in the past and not shy away from that, because we’re embarrassed. And I would say, you know, I went on a journey about this with Symonds myself, I think I really wanted to ignore late 20’s Symonds having sex with a teenager, because that was something that was embarrassing. And it tarnished this image that I had with him is a really inspirational figure. And it took me years really to kind of think, Well, actually, that’s really important. And that’s part of understanding how Symonds was originally, you know, his worldview was shaped by the pederasty model originally and and it also helps us to understand the ways that his later relationship with Angelo Fusato can could have been problematic, because it was also status unequal in a different way. And maybe shows the application of the pederastic paradigm to other contexts, white men pursuing relationships with men of colour gets put into the pederasty paradigm Also, sometimes in a problematic way. And so thinking in a more expansive way about that, and in a way that I think is like tries to be value neutral, you know, really, like opens up a field of inquiry that I think that we’re still just starting to get to grips with as historians,
Amy Hitchings 18:27
I think, yeah, given exactly what you’ve been saying. It’s especially something that we’ve been grappling with with the project, especially with it being community facing. And you know, I think you’re so right, and what you said about the honesty and the actual discussion around this, and, you know, looking at these archives with full appreciation of what you see within them. Yeah, I completely appreciate that. One of the things that we’ve done is having open discussions around this and you know, looking through the different things that we can find within buggery within the archives, that are different forms of relationship, different forms of experiences, and then what we can understand from that, so yeah, thank you again,
George Stokes 19:07
I was just going to set it sort of links in with the work, or the questions that we’ve been asking ourselves in terms of the pardoning of men who had sex with men, and the blanket pardon and that sort of thing given now, we’re very aware that actually, most of the men in our study would have been pardoned by the state now on that blanket pardon, but there will be people who in that would be sex offenders today or would would be very questionable in terms of the scenarios in which they had sex with other men.
Dr Emily Rutherford 19:38
I think one Yeah, one perspective on this is to really try to piece out Yeah, who, who is a person like us and who isn’t right and kind of perform a diagnosis and say, Yeah, like, Okay, well, here, we’ve got the respectable gay men over here. And over here, we’ve got the paedophiles, right like, but I don’t find that particularly A useful or interesting exercise. And I also find it a kind of troubling exercise because we as queer people today don’t enjoy it when diagnosis is performed upon us. And when people sort us out into kind of respectable and unrespectable, or normative and non normative, right, and, you know, these people are all dead, I’m not particularly interested in like passing judgement on them and saying, like, they were a good or a bad person, or their actions would or would not be legal or illegal today. But I think what’s important and what, you know, what speaks to what you’re doing with your community engagement work is like holding that space for researchers who come to this to whether they’re, you know, academic researchers, and researchers in the community, you know, to come to process their, whatever feelings they might have about encountering that information, and to talk through it and think about it. And, you know, I’ve taught Plato to undergraduates. And there, it can be important to hold that space for students to say, Hey, wait a second, I’m kind of grossed out by like Plato saying, or Socrates saying, like, talking about having sex with boys, right, or desiring boys. And, you know, it can be helpful for the students to get that out of the way, it would be helpful for me as the instructor to remember that, you know, there could be students in my classroom who have experienced sexual assault or you know, who might have like a really emotionally fraught relationship to that material. But that’s, I think, separable from a question of trying to make normative moral claims about the past, which, you know, might have some value for some people. I’m not gonna say that it doesn’t, but it’s certainly something that I’m not interested in doing.
Amy Hitchings 21:37
Yeah, definitely. And just thinking there, as well, in there, kind of, especially in terms of actually opening up these spaces. You know, the archives, a lot of people that were at our community group had had advocated that they’d not been in archives at all, we had quite a lot of people that had been in archives and loved archival research. So, you know, opening this space up to actually have discussions around this. So yeah, I completely agree with you, it’s, it’s probably the most crucial part of this whole research to actually encourage the discussions and the, you know, kind of independent independent experiences that you have with the material that you see.
George Stokes 22:11
So we have spoken a bit about the development of understandings of same sex sex, how did conceptualizations of same sex desire change across our period and beyond?
Dr Emily Rutherford 22:21
Yeah, so I think there’s a few important things that happen, really, between the late 19th and early 20th century. And, you know, the narrative that I think by this point, like a lot of us who study and work on this stuff, and maybe even just sort of have engaged with this a little bit in the culture right have internalised is that there’s this narrative about going from acts to identities. And that’s, that’s Michel Foucault’s narrative. So the idea is that the category, sort of before the mid 19th century is the sodomite right somebody who is a man who has sex with men. So it’s defined in terms of the behaviour of that person. And Foucault contends by the 1860s 1870s, you have the homosexual as a category, who is, you know, a person who has this internal desire, that’s the same sex desire. So you know, that person doesn’t have to do anything in particular to they are homosexual, regardless of whether they have sex or not. And there’s some truth to that, you know, that’s still sort of, broadly, a useful way to think about what happens in terms of the legal story, and also in terms of the kind of more abstract conceptual story. But we can, I think, start to complicate that and dig down. What’s really going on in the late 19th and early 20th century is that there are lots of different paradigms circulating for how to conceptualise same sex desire. And it’s true that the homosexual ultimately wins out, at least for a time. My sense is that that doesn’t really happen until like, the homosexual doesn’t really become solid and stable and codified until maybe the 1930s. And what has to happen between, say, the 1860s, and the 1930s is a couple different things. One is that you have this sort of really profound influence from psychology and psychoanalysis that allows people to think about the self and identity is something that’s internally psychologically formed something that has its roots in early childhood development. And that becomes very important for men sort of working out, well, how did I get to be this way? You know, what does it mean to be a homosexual? There’s this idea that same sex desires, congenital, comes out of sexology sexual science, psychoanalysis. And that’s very important, and that’s new, and an interest in where it came from is new also in sort of the turn of the 20th century. And then another thing that happens is that homosexuality has to get disaggregated from other ways of understanding gender and sexual difference. So we spoke about pederasty. Right. So one really important thing that happens is that activists particularly homosexual rights activists, for respectability politics, reasons, put in a lot of work, to be able to say, well, homosexuality is about consenting adults, it is different to pederasty. Homosexuality is something that should be decriminalised. That is fine. If it’s consenting adults in private, right, and that is unlike pederasty, which should, which is suspect deviant should remain criminalised. It takes a lot of work over the whole course of the 20th century to keep doing that desegregation, it’s really hard to do. The pederasty model, and the British case in particular is really sticky. And this is something that I’m working on in my research at the moment is understanding, you know how that process of disaggregation happens and what’s at stake there for activists. The other thing that happens is that sexual variance gets disaggregated from gender variance. And so what you start to have in the early 20th century is the trans person, and the homosexual, which are two different categories in a way that they weren’t previously. Previously, gender variants might signal sexual variants, and vice versa. There’s this category of inversion, if you’re assigned male at birth, but you experience same sex desire, the inversion model is that you on some level, have a female soul. And that’s why you’re attracted to men. And that’s a paradigm that captures gender variance as well as sexual variance and says they’re part of the same phenomenon. But in the early 20th century, those things start to get disaggregated. And you start to have more people who are defining themselves in terms of the thing that is important about me is my gender variance versus people saying the thing that’s important about me is that I experienced same sex desire. And so you start to have a system that’s familiar to us in some ways, where you have a quite rigid, stable, hegemonic, hetero, homo binary, right. So sexuality is defined in terms of are you heterosexual or homosexual. bisexuality as a concept comes along much later in the 20th century as a stable concept. And then you have emerging conceptions of trans identities, which are sort of increasingly sought to be seen as distinct phenomena.
Amy Hitchings 26:40
I was just thinking at the same time that so we’ve been working with somebody called Norena Shopland, who is a Welsh researcher. She’s mostly worked with Police Gazette, because that’s she’s worked with all archives, but has a bulk of Police Gazettes, in her wardrobe upstairs in her house, which is very pleasing to Me. Yeah, it’s extraordinary. And then, so she actually sent us over some Police Gazettes that’s concerning Berkshire individuals. And what we found around the 1957 is descriptions, like effeminate wearing wearing makeup, possibly homosexual, you know, and this kind of connotations between these two things that, you know, potentially would be identifying factors to locate these individuals. And, you know, I think one thing that we have seen is that, especially as you move towards the 1950s 1960s, is a clear kind of attachment of the word homosexual in newspapers. And people actually say, I am a homosexual and things like that, we’ve, we also did a bit of research, in terms of search terms. So one of the things I was looking at, is gender. And, you know, the kind of conflation between gender and sexuality. And we located one story in 1970, of an individual called Louise, who was trans and you know, I would actually apply that term trans to her. And, you know, she is living and as their authentic self, and it is a really beautiful story. So, to go from these two different contrasts of having, you know, kind of these newspaper stories that are so damning in terms of reporting this and then having a newspaper report that’s quite Actually, I don’t know, what would you say to which it’s actually quite supportive the newspaper report of Louise. So they do use these as you know, kind of past name and her past pronouns. But there is also this kind of, you know, support and an emergence of the fact that she is supported with her family and friends and things like that. So, you know, I think the different approaches and the ways that people then report on these different things is really interesting, too. So moving on to the next question, our project has mainly been focused on criminal archives. So we’ve seen a lot of documents, you know, written by that aren’t written by individuals themselves. And we’ve been using newspapers, which, again, are obviously not written by people at the individuals themselves. Can you tell us about the sources that you’ve used that perhaps are written by people?
Dr Emily Rutherford 29:10
Yeah. So my research, you know, mostly focuses on elite men who, you know, understood themselves in some sense to be homosexuals or inverts, or uranians or, you know, whatever. And the language at the time was and who were writing themselves about that. So that includes private documents or semi private documents, like diaries, letters, you know, so there’s something about one person writing to another person. It also includes sort of slightly more public documents like perhaps a manuscript memoir autobiography that someone wrote that they may be shared to a group of people or they may be hoped someday could be published, even if it wasn’t possible at the time that they were writing it. It also includes minutes of societies, clubs, organisations, spaces where men are kind of coming together with shared interests to talk to one another. And those are not necessarily, this isn’t as queer encoded organisations. They’re not necessarily explicitly like homosexual rights organisations. For example, there’s a group of men I’m interested in, in early 20th century at Cambridge, who are defined by their common interest in book collecting, but are also sort of implicitly a queer community, I’ve sort of looked at, you know, the, the sort of association or links between that group of people, and that, yeah, and then also records related to educational institutions, schools and colleges. And one of the things that emerges, I think, particularly in the autobiographical writing is, while there are lots of different types of language and sometimes varying paradigms, that men like make recourse to, they are commonly interested in, you know, giving an account of, they understand the man who desires men to be a particular kind of person. And they are interested in explaining, you know, I am that kind of person, here are my ideas about like, why I might be that kind of person, what it’s like for me, in maybe some relationships I’ve had, or people I have wanted to have relationships with, and are, you know, trying to give an account of that experience of like an internally felt conception of same sex desire, even if, you know, sometimes they aren’t, sometimes they are surprisingly early to me using the word homosexual, but but not always, but but they are sort of making recourse to that conception of a sort of sexual object choice based identity. Another thing I’d say about them is that I think this is saying that I now take as an like, take for granted as an assumption, but that I think, is sometimes surprising to people who like don’t necessarily do this research, is that there’s less sex than you might expect. That’s partly like, people don’t write about sex as much as does a police report of somebody who has been arrested for attempted sodomy, right, like that’s a sex crime. You know, a lot of my men, they, you know, sort of forlornly desire people from across the room and don’t feel I mean, they know they’re homosexual, but they don’t feel able to act on their desires, because they imagine that that man won’t feel the same way about them. Perhaps that man is their student, not infrequent in my guys, or there’s some other reason why it sort of feels impossible to pursue that. Or, you know, men might not necessarily have access to paradigms that allowed them to characterise their sort of longing or crushes as sexual in some ways. And they may know that there is a kind of person who desires men, but they might not think to themselves in the way that I think we would like people who grow up gay or queer now think, Oh, I realise I’m gay. Therefore, I imagine I’m going to be having a specific kind of sex, and I can go online and learn more about what that means. I think a lot of my guys that doesn’t follow for them necessarily in the same way. So they’re gonna be like, Okay, I’m going to have this really intimate relationship with my best friend at school, and maybe there’s going to be some touching involved. But these relationships are often less sort of explicitly sexual than we might imagine them to be.
Amy Hitchings 33:29
Leading on from that, Are you working on anything exciting at the moment? Is there anything you’d like to discuss with our listeners? Is there anything they can look out for
Dr Emily Rutherford 33:36
yes and so well, right now and so the funny thing about my sort of, during my intellectual journey is that my PhD was like very much not about this, or it was only marginally about this. So what I’m currently trying to do is write the book of my PhD, which is about British universities and kind of what happens to the higher education sector after women enter it. And there is some homosexuality in that, particularly in terms of people who feel that something is going to be lost if gender different gender differentiation breaks down in the higher education sector. And those are people, both men and women, who are committed to kind of ideas about the forms of intimate relationships that are possible between men or between women and single sex educational institutions. And so that’s an element of that project. But once I have done that, and sort of in the meantime, I am also beginning work on another book project, which is called if I can remember it, Intellectual Aristocracy: the intellectual history of male homosexuality in England, circa 1850 to 1967. And so that’s a project about these elite men that I’ve been talking about and, and the paradigms that they use to conceptualise same sex, desire and sex, and it’s really trying to, in some ways, recover some of the politically problematic and less satisfying genealogies, for homosexuality and queerness. And to reveal how messy a story of how we get to modern homosexuality and queerness how messy history that is. And to talk about some of these things that I’ve been talking about today, like the role of pederasty, in those paradigms, and the role of anti democratic and inegalitarian thinking, in the kinds of sex and relationships that some of these elite men pursued, and you know, that’s, in some ways, a less politically satisfying story, but it also reveals, you know, how, in the kind of tumbler, 2014 parlance, all of our faves are problematic. And history doesn’t always offer us the kind of ready moral lessons that we sometimes come to it desiring. And I think that’s a great thing for us all to recognise, who engage with the past that that it’s complicated and messy and problematic. And that’s part of what makes it interesting.
Amy Hitchings 35:58
Sounds amazing. sounds absolutely unbelievable. And I am very excited to give that a read once it’s all together. Thank you so much. And just just to say, is there any any places that the listeners can find you? Are you on Twitter?
Dr Emily Rutherford 36:12
Yes so you can find me @EchoMikeRomeo, which is my initials in NATO radio code. And I have a website, which has a bit more about my research on it, as well as if you google Emily Rutherford, you will find me.
Amy Hitchings 36:25
Amazing. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Emily. And yeah, we’ll sign off the podcast now. So have a lovely day. Thank you to the listeners.