A STATE OF THE FIELD CONFERENCE
IN EARLY MODERN GENDER AND SEXUALITY STUDIES
MARCH 18, 2011
8:30 - 6:30
HOUSTON HALL AND THE MCNEIL CENTER FOR EARLY AMERICAN STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
“Historicizing Sex” will address a range of important questions about the current state of gender and sexuality studies of the early modern period. “Historicizing Sex” begins with the assumption that the study of the past can add significantly to our understandings of power, desire, fantasy, and identification in the present. Work in the early modern period has always been central to gender and sexuality studies, even as feminism and queer theory have profoundly shaped the work of early modernists. Early modern scholars have established the historically and culturally specific nature of constructions of human identity. At the same time, however, they have interrogated the very concept of historical difference to demonstrate that an excessive focus on alterity may not only distort our understanding of past cultures as easily as a naïve identification but also enable present structures of domination and inequality. Early modernists have also shown that the historical construction and representation of gendered and sexual norms must be situated within contexts of material history, religious controversy, emergent nationalism, evolving understandings of race, and changing structures of global trade and colonial expansion. Feminist and queer analysis has uncovered the contradictory views of the human body, sociopolitical order, imperial power, and religious conviction that shaped early modern experiences of gender and desire. As numerous scholars have observed, we ignore at our peril the ways that these early modern constructions illuminate and intersect with contemporary norms and practices.
"Historicizing Sex" is sponsored by a Mellon Cross-Cultural Contacts Conference Grant, a University Research Foundation Award, and the English Department, History of Art Department, History Department, Women's Studies Program and Alice Paul Center, Comparative Literature Program, and Gender/Sexuality Studies Group at the University of Pennsylvania.