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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Trying to get out more

I was thinking the other day of the times back when I had just begun working at what was then the Wellcome Institute, and the huge number of associated seminars and symposia I used to attend, whether or not they related directly to my own academic concerns (the remembrance that brought this to mind was of a seminar on, to the best of my recollection, Biblical views on leprosy). This is something that has rather fallen by the wayside of recent years.

Now that the pressure which did not seem to relent during pretty much the whole of 2012 has let up a bit, and given that there are currently a number of attractive seminar series at the Institute of Historical Research, just down the road, I am trying to schedule in getting to at least some of them.

The Life-Cycles Seminar has some intriguing offerings this term: last week I went to Victoria Bates' '"The Breakers that Separate Childhood from Youth": Medicine and Sexual Development in Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Britain'. Although rather thinly atttended, it generated a vibrant discussion around puberty in history. I'm hoping to get to a couple of the others.

Yesterday evening, at the Psychoanalysis and History seminar, Chris Waters gave a very rich presentation on
'Edward Glover and the Politics of Homosexual Law Reform'. There was a lot in this paper, but one of the take-home reflections was the tension between Glover's belief (he was a strict Freudian and in this he followed Freud) that homosexuality was not a disorder to be cured, and, increasingly, that any problems gay men had were largely to do with societal homophobia, and the requirements of the situation in his day that making a case for psychiatric referrals of men accused of homosexual conduct was a humane expedient to avoid imprisonment on the one hand, and, on the other, the use of chemical castration (as in the case of Alan Turing - Waters made some passing comments on this cause celebre which make one eager to read the book of which this and the Glover material will form part). The condemnation of the psychiatrisation and medicalisation of homosexuality in the post-1967 era demonised figures who had been doing work that fed into the Wolfenden Report recommendations and thus led to decriminalisation. A number of other intriguing seminars are forthcoming in this series.

Other IHR seminar series that are tempting me are Modern British History and Sport and Leisure History, although there is nothing much in the current Women's History schedule that speaks to my particular interests.

I also draw attention to the Archives and Society series, in particular the seminar on 26th February at which my Wellcome colleagues will be presenting on 'Ethics, Access and Digitisation'.

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