Confessors and Clitoridectomists

Georgia Oman

This week, the Gender & Sexuality History workshop was pleased to welcome George Morris, a second-year PhD student from Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Drawing from his dissertation research, Morris treated those present to the unlikely yet fascinating tale of how the rise of an Anglican confessional in the 1860s and 70s was counterposed by contemporary medical scandals involving clitoridectomy, or what is now commonly termed female genital mutilation (FGM). While, at first glance the two issues may appear unrelated, Morris’s merging of the fields of religious and medical history overlapped to tell a shared story of intimacy, the dissemination of knowledge about sin, and the disruption of domesticity.

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Writing History as if Women Mattered Professor Susan Pedersen’s Reflections on a Career

Helen Sunderland

Last Tuesday the workshop was delighted to welcome Professor Susan Pedersen, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia University, to speak about her career as a women’s and gender historian.

Pedersen opened by noting that to tell the story of one’s career as a historian inevitably involves talking about oneself. She reflected on how her unconventional background has been a resource for both her historical training and work and described how personal circumstances influenced each of her book projects in different ways. It was this interweaving of the personal, political and professional that made the talk so compelling. I was left with a real sense of the potential that bringing ourselves as historians into more conscious dialogue with our research subjects has to enrich the histories we write.

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Confronting the “Straight State”

George Severs

This week at the Gender and Sexuality History Workshop we were delighted to hear from Stephen Colbrook, an MPhil student in American History at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Stephen treated us to a taste of his dissertation, talking us through the interesting case of California’s state response to its HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 1980s.

That California was used as a case study is in some ways unsurprising. San Francisco was something of an epicentre of the epidemic on the West Coast during this period. LGBTQ+ had long been coming to California, and San Francisco in particular, seeking refuge within the diverse queer communities which had flourished there since the postwar period. When the epidemic began in earnest in Britain, LGBTQ+ community leaders involved in coordinating HIV/AIDS groups often travelled to California in order to learn how to most effectively organise in the face of such a terrifying and unknown virus.

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Black Bandit, White Wife

Bethan Johnson

‘A life lived at the messy intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, criminality and motherhood.’ This was the perfect description of the narrative told to workshop attendees by Meg Foster, a PhD student from the University of New South Wales and a visiting student at Cambridge, of her research into the life of Ethel Page, wife of convicted murderer Jimmy Governor. One element of a broader thesis analysing non-traditional Australian bushrangers (generally speaking, outlaws who committed crimes, often robberies, in the Australian wilderness), Foster’s presentation focused on how Ethel’s relationship with her husband, as well as his crimes and short-lived life on the run, transfixed 19th century Australian society. Instead of focusing on Jimmy, as many true crime accounts of this case have done, Foster allowed Ethel to take the central role in this story, thereby allowing her to tease out broader themes regarding gender, race, and journalism.

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