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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Not exactly news

I never know whether to be exasperated or depressed when there is some 'news' story on the history of sexuality. It is probably utopian to hope that journalists will not report as exciting new discoveries topics that have not only been the subject of several decades of historical scholarship but significant amounts of revisionism. Partly I am sure this is also to do with publishers' marketing departments trying to find some Unique Selling Point to promote a volume in a competitive marketplace.

I have recently been noticing a number of advance promotional pieces for a new book on the C18th Sexual Revolution.

I am not a C18th historian: on the whole I prefer not to go back much further than 1850 and frankly, I much prefer the C20th, in particular the interwar period, if I had to choose. However, over my years in the field I have come across a fair amount of work on The Long Eighteenth Century and was rather surprised to see this being presented as (ahem) virgin territory in the matter of history of sexuality.

Edward Shorter posited the late C18th as an epoch of sexual liberation way back in the mid-1970s, although his interpretation of the data has been subjected to significant critique since The Making of the Modern Family. Other names associated with the illumination of questions of gender and sexuality in the UK during the Long C18th and indeed paying considerable attention to changes and new developments: Lawrence Stone, Randolph Trumbach,  Rictor Norton, Roy Porter, Tim Hitchcock, Amanda Vickery, Julie Peakman, Lisa Cody, Mary Fissell, Michael Stolberg, Thomas Laqueur, Kevin Siena, Norma Clarke, Jane Cox, Dorinda Outram, Alan Macfarlane, Mary Abbott, Ludmilla Jordanova, Julie Gammon... a list which could go on.

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