History | American Sexual Histories
A300 | 15555 | Allen


Above class open to undergraduates only
Above class meets with GNDR-G 302

Through an exploration of sexual episodes in American history
between the late C17th & C20th, this course examines interactions
between sexualities on the one hand, and religion, law, science,
medicine, and popular culture and custom on the other – all domains
that were inflected by gender, aboriginal, race, ethnic, class,
religious, imperial, and regional dynamics.  Episodes examined
include: the 1692 Salem witch crisis; Spanish, French &
western “frontier” sexualities; a 1742 Connecticut abortion
prosecution, debates over Sally Heming and Thomas Jefferson; sexual
patterns within chattel slavery, the 1892 Lizzie Borden slayings;
Margaret Sanger’s 1915 obscenity indictment,  interwar eugenics and
Jim Crow laws on interracial sexual relations.

Across these four centuries, understandings of sexualities
established among indigenes, settlers, and immigrant peoples
gradually shifted from religious to Western secular and professional
auspices.  Yet, America’s partial colonization by Anglophone
religious dissenters left traces in continued resistance to secular
approaches to erotic lives, critics particularly deploring urban
sexual patterns.  By the 1860s, birthrates showed marked decreases,
coordinating with increasing rates of divorce and non-conjugal
sexualities, trends which accelerated by the end of World War I,
unleashing urgent concern about prostitution, venereal diseases,
unwed mothers, sexual “waywardness,” and same-sex eroticism – all
especially blamed on descendants of African American ex-slaves and
Eastern & Southern European immigrants.

Such changing sexual histories called for study and explanation.
The new field of sex-research had emerged in Europe after 1870; but
American scientists led after World War I, culminating in Alfred
Kinsey’s postwar “Kinsey Reports,” produced at Indiana University.
Some commentators claim that such research in turn unleashed
a “sexual revolution” leading directly to “free love,” “wife
swapping,” homosexual bars and the Stonewall Riots, Roe v. Wade, the
Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and gay marriage.  Events and issues
highlighting these themes include;1948 &1953 “Kinsey Reports”;
Christine Jorgensen’s 1952 sex change; the advent of Playboy
magazine, the Pill; homosexuality and abortion decriminalization;
the AIDS pandemic since 1983; the release of Viagra in 1999.

How did those involved in these events narrate their own sexual
histories?  How have historians narrated American sexual histories,
including the history and impact of sex research?  How have
scientific findings altered American sexualities?  How have sexual
patterns influenced politics, economics, and legislation?

The course has four requirements:

1.  Weekly preparation of brief notes on a choice of readings
[posted prior to class on Oncourse],  attendance, & effective
participation [30%]

2.  Mid-term take home exam [25%]

3.  Research essay [25%]

4.  Take-home final exam [20%].

Texts:
"Sexual borderlands: Constructing an American Sexual Past."  Edited
by Kathleen Kennedy and Sharon Ullman. Columbus: The Ohio State
University Press, 2003

"Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality: Documents and
Essays."  Edited by Kathy Peiss.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

In addition, there will be primary and secondary sources, film &
television clips posted for each week of work in the course on
Oncourse & E-reserves.