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, a monograph based on my PhD dissertation, is an account of how the reimagining of British higher education as a gender-integrated system from around 1860 reshaped both higher education and the gender order of modern Britain. The second, a line of research on which I originally embarked 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 book 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 deep immersion in the archives of seventeen English and Scottish colleges and universities, I show that policymakers and higher education administrators came very quickly to a consensus that higher education should be accessible to women, with all universities in Britain except Oxford and Cambridge admitting women on equal terms to men by 1905. But formal equality did not imply integration. Through a series of case-studies ranging over the political, legal, social, and cultural history of higher-education institutions and those who studied and worked in them, I show that conceptions of the purpose of the university remained gender-differentiated and women’s and men’s social and emotional lives remained gender-segregated. Many men and women sought to overcome these divides, but struggled practically to work out how to do so; others remained attached to idealized conceptions of same-sex intimacy that they thought uniquely possible in residential higher education. I suggest that a richer understanding of how middle-class individuals negotiated gender relations over a tremendous period of social and cultural change can offer us greater purchase on the persistence of gender difference as a fundamental organizing category of politics and society in modern Britain.
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. 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” between men 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 Eidolon, Public Seminar, History Workshop Online, and elsewhere.