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Unit information: Sexualities (Level H Reflective History) in 2016/17

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Unit name Sexualities (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST38011
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Thompson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Over the last thirty years, the history of sexuality has been at the forefront of historical investigation. Many of you will have encountered the work of its practioners in your studies at Bristol. Historians have attempted to chart attitudes to, and experiences of, sex and sexuality in a wide range of societies and across long periods of time.

The unit takes as its starting point Michel Foucault's path-breaking History of sexuality. Foucault argued that the experience of sexuality as an identity, rather than of sex as a series of acts, did not exist before the late nineteenth century. This bold and controversial claim has, unsurprisingly, been strongly challenged by historians of earlier eras. We will assess the disputes this has generated.

We begin by examining the nature of Foucault's argument before seeking to test its validity. Historians of sexuality have been deeply concerned with both theoretical issues and the challenges of comparative history. This unit encourages students to examine the theoretical issues presented by seeking to write the history of sex and sexuality, and to consider these issues in concrete comparative terms.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students should have:

  • A heightened understanding of the particular and unique skills that historians acquire and of the way in which they apply those skills to a specific task.
  • Be able to convey that understanding to others.
  • Have a stronger awareness of how their skills might be applied more generally to other contexts.

Teaching details

Seminars - 2 hours per week

Assessment Details

1 x 24 hour seen exam

Reading and References

A. Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (1982)

George Chauncey, Gay New York: gender, urban culture and the making of the gay male world, 1890-1940 (1994)

H. Cook, The long sexual revolution: English women, sex and contraception, 1800-1975 (2004)

H. Cocks and M. Houlbrook, Modern History of Sexuality (2006)

J. Dollimore, Sexual dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991)

M. Foucault, History of sexuality (1984)

D. M. Halperin, How to do the history of homosexuality (2002)

D. Herzog, Sex after fascism: memory and morality in twentieth-century Germany (2005)

M. Houlbrook, Queer London: perils and pleasures in the sexual metropolis, 1918-57 (2005)

T. Lacquer, Making sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud (1990)