Research

I am currently working on two research projects, both of which sit at the nexus of intellectual history, the history of gender and sexuality, and modern British history. The first, my dissertation, is an account of the relationship between the emergence of a modern British gender order and a modern British higher education system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second, a long-running line of research which I began as an undergraduate and to which I have recently returned in the form of a second book project, is a new intellectual history of male homosexuality in England in the century or so prior to the emergence of the gay liberation movement.

The Politics and Culture of Gender in British Universities, 1860–1935

Modern British historians increasingly agree that assumptions of essential differences between men and women fundamentally structured the political and social order of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, outside of and long after campaigns for women’s formal legal equality. But we still do not know as much as we might about what that meant and how it worked. My dissertation proposes that a thorough understanding of the structure and culture of the much-expanded higher education system, through which a new political and cultural elite passed, can tell us. Between 1860 and 1935, the assumption of gender difference as a fundamental organizing principle of British society shaped the expansion of an increasingly nationally integrated higher education system. How gender structured daily life for faculty and students within universities, in turn, shaped the attitudes to gender of a new university-educated elite.

Through extensive research in the archives of ten universities across England and Scotland, I show that, though expert opinion across Britain supported large coeducational research universities from the late nineteenth century, this did little to alter the centrality of gender difference to university life. Campus relations between men and women remained conflictual, and the professional, social, and emotional lives of faculty and students remained largely gender-segregated. I delve deeply into individual stories, recovering lost causes, unlikely alliances, and forgotten modes of behavior: the London-based reformers of disparate political persuasions who sought to have “household science” recognized as a serious liberal-arts education for women; the widow who fought senior administrators of the University of Glasgow to preserve the independence of the university’s women’s college; the students at Manchester who raged against administrators for gender-segregating the din- ing hall, only to learn that the practice came from custom rather than from rule; the men students across the country for whom a parade in drag, from which women were excluded, was the social event of the season; the conservative academics, administrators, and donors in Oxford and Cambridge who fought a rear-guard action to keep intimate male community at the center of the idea of a university; the women residence-life professionals, united by a friendship network stretching from Edinburgh to New York, who thought a club for women university graduates could unite the world as successfully as the League of Nations. Throughout, I argue for the importance of the history of universities and of gender to wider accounts of liberal elites in modern Europe; and for the possibility of using cultural-historical methodologies to answer political-historical questions.

I have not yet published anything from this project, but have presented my findings widely at conferences and seminars in the UK and North America. In addition to completing the dissertation and revising it into book form, I am working on an article about gender and the cultural phenomenon of the student rag. You can read a blog post sharing some preliminary findings from that research here. In 2017, I published an article derived from my master’s thesis, “Arthur Sidgwick’s Greek Prose Composition: Gender, Affect, and Sociability in the Late-Victorian University.” Its account of a late-nineteenth-century Oxford classics lecturer takes up themes which my dissertation considers in a wider national perspective.

 

Intellectual Aristocracies: The Intellectual History of Male Homosexuality in England, c. 1850–1967

I became a historian because of the nineteenth-century English theorist of male homosexuality John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), the first person writing in English to develop a theory of homosexuality as an identity rather than an act. My work on Symonds—based on my undergraduate thesis—appeared in the Journal of the History of Ideas in 2014. After several years working on other things, I have recently returned to the intellectual history of male homosexuality through a collaborative project with two early modern Europeanist colleagues on “Histories of Sexuality and Erudition.” I am now planning a second book project focused on the unpublished manuscript writing about homosexuality of English educators, writers, and intellectuals such as William Johnson Cory, Symonds, G.L. Dickinson, E.P. Warren, and E.M. Forster. It seeks to recover the importance of these thinkers, some little-known, and to identify a distinctively English brand of theorizing about male homosexual identity—in which elite educational institutions, the Greek and Latin classics, and antidemocratic political thought loomed larger than has previously been recognized in a scholarly literature that has focused on homosexuality’s radicalism and subversion of hegemonic masculinities. In tracing the social and institutional contexts in which my thinkers operated and the reception of their ideas, I suggest that they have had lasting effects on how male homosexuality has been conceptualized in England, even after the decriminalization of “gross indecency” and the advent of gay liberation politics.

I have started to develop these ideas in conference papers, in an article in progress on the reception of William Johnson Cory’s poetry, and in numerous pieces of writing for a wider audience. My public-facing writing about the intellectual history of male homosexuality in modern Britain has appeared in EidolonPublic SeminarHistory Workshop Online, and elsewhere, and was recently mentioned in the New York Times.