Global Queer History: Themes, Methods, and Approaches

AHA Session 186
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 11
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Gramercy West (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Sarah E. Watkins, independent scholar
Sarah E. Watkins, independent scholar

Session Abstract

In recent years, the history of sexuality has witnessed a growing interest in global and transnational approaches. New books and edited collections have recast the history of prostitution, sex education, migration, sexual science, and other important topics in a framework that transcends the nation-state. This panel boldly extends this energy by contextualizing queer history across Africa, Melanesia, Europe, North America, and the Asia Pacific. With contribution from four editors of the landmark 3-volume Global Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History(2019), this panel considers the strengths and limitations of a global approach to situating queer lives and experiences in modern history.

Specifically, the panel features four critical reflections on methodological issues in global queer history, each focusing on a different regional-spatial scale. Marc Epprecht discusses the colonial underpinnings of the historical archive of same-sexuality and how various recent trends in African studies have pushed back against them. At the center of these revisionist efforts lies an incentive to “indignize” or “Africanize” core concepts and approaches. Ross Forman brings together the promise of microhistory and the usefulness of the periodical press as a source to “locate” the politics of pederasty in late 19th-century Nouméa, the capital of the French penal colony of New Caledonia. Through the case study of La lanterne de Nouméa, a hand-written, short-lived printed newspaper, Forman navigates the uneven tensions between the metropole and the colony, microhistory and global history, scandal and fact, the vernacular press and circumspect reporting, and homosexuality and sodomy. Analyzing the transnational traffic of erotic photography, Jennifer Evans historicizes the Sexual Revolution as a global queer event. In particular, she challenges the normative assumptions about the role of visual argumentation in sexual self-expression, thereby recasting the periodization, constitution, and make-up of this period of liberalization and change. Howard Chiang rethinks the implications of the recent rise of China for the writing of trans history through a post-identitarian framework of transgender inscription. Drawing on cinematic examples across the Pacific that feature the theme of castration and corporeal (re)signification, he unpacks the lure of history for the rhetoric of contemporary queer expression and politics.

Taken together, the four papers explore thematic approaches that operate on discrepant scales to anchor broader historical narratives about the existence of queer experience across diverse geographical contexts and temporal axes. It is to the effect of adding intellectual rigor, political color, cultural vibrancy, and social nuance to this most ordinary feature of human life that the panel hopes to accomplish.

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