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Monday 22 August 2011

Forthcoming conference

Women's History Network Annual Conference
Friday 9th to Sunday 11th September 2011
20 Years of the Women's History Network
Looking Back - Looking Forward
At The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University.

I shall be giving a paper in the 'Sexualities' panel, 9.30-11 am on the Saturday.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Monday 15 August 2011

Feelthy pictures?

Not very, really, but official sensibilities seem to have been very touchy in the 1950s (and maybe it's less the pictures than the words, and the conjunctions of the two):
The Director of Public Prosecutions' campaign against obscene seaside postcards
the cards in question, online at the British Cartoon Archive.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Catching up on journal articles and chapters XIV

Adrian Bingham, 'The British Popular Press And Venereal Disease During The Second World War', Historical Journal, 2005, 48, 1055‑76: very useful on the extent to which the Daily Mirror actually broke through the general taboo in the popular press which watered down the Ministry of Health public awareness campaign on VD in WWII and the wider context for this.

Joanna de Groot, '"Sex" and "race": the construction of language and image in the nineteenth century", in Catherine Hall (ed.), Cultures of Empire: A Reader: Colonizers in Britain and the Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 37‑60, great stuff on the pervasiveness of Orientalist tropes around gender and sexuality in the C19th; and in the same volume ; Sonya O. Rose, 'Sex, citizenship and the nation in World War II Britain', 148-79 about attitudes to women, fear of their enjoying themselves in time of war, and the massive panics about their relationships with American troops, esp, of course, Black GIs.

Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair, ' Middle-Class Family Structure in Nineteenth-Century Glasgow' Journal of Family History, 1999 24: 468 - indicates that there were a lot more female-headed (middle-class) households than the patriarchal family paradigm would have us think, and not all widows or unmarried women were living under the roof of some male relative.

Emma L. Jones, 'Attitudes to Abortion in the Era of Reform: evidence from the Abortion Law Reform Association correspondence', Women's History Review, 2011, 20:2, 283‑98 - how attitudes were changing in the early 60s - changes in language used and sense of this being a question one can ask, about access to proper medical facilities. 

Jane Pilcher, ' Sex in Health Education: Official Guidance for Schools in England, 1928–1977'  Journal of Historical Sociology Vol. 17 No. 2/3 June/September 2004, 185‑208 - that up until 1943 there was no official guidance, and the absence of anything about the reproductive system in the BoE guidelines on health ed had a negative influence. In the 1950s (after the 1943 sex ed guidelines go out of print) a chapter is incorporated into the health ed guidelines but it's very much as one would expect about control and health and even a continuing eugenic agenda rather than anything about pleasure well into the 70s

Tanya Evans, 'The Other Woman and her Child: extra-marital affairs and illegitimacy in twentieth-century Britain', Women's History Review 'Lone Mothers' issue, 2011, 20, 67-86: the hidden prevalence of unmarried couples (because of inability of one partner to divorce etc) and of illeg offspring absorbed into the mother's family - instances where these things didn't come to the attention of authorites (really until those surveys of the post WWII era?) and people were pretty determined to conceal that all was not as it should be (presumption of marriage, etc)

More from that productive team of Gayle Davis and Roger Davidson,  ‘Big White Chief’,‘Pontius Pilate’,and the ‘Plumber’: The Impact of the 1967 Abortion Act on the Scottish Medical Community, c.1967–1980' , 2003, Vol.18 pp.283–306: how the Scottish medical (and nursing) professions reacted to the demand for abortion once it was legal, the massive regional variations, the attempts to negotiate decision-making in a charged area, the temporary use of psychiatrists (which changed as things became more routine), the influence of specific individuals, for or against, in particular areas (also, different local cultures) - Aberdeen vs Glasgow. Suspect that quite a lot of this would have been much the same in England and Wales? 

Saturday 13 August 2011

Recent books

Since I've started actually working on the revisions I've had less time and mental energy to do these posts and have fallen sadly behind in updating. So, a quick round-up of books, and I may get round to a probably rather abbreviate roundup of articles and chapters in the next day or so.

John Tosh, A Man's Place: Masculinity and the Middle-class Home in Victorian England (Yale UP, 1999 - amazon says Mar 1999 but I don't think it was out when I was working on first edition of Sex,Gender and Social Change). This was re-read - or rather, I think I read at least parts in ms, not sure I ever read the whole thing straight through after publication - and is really useful on Victorian middle-class masculinity and the domestic and the centrality of marriage to adult manhood, and the way things shifted over the century. 

Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (Routledge 1995), which I should have read before and didn't. It is really excellent, and has (what somehow I had not got an impression of) a real appreciation of the complexities and the ways in which phenomena were situated. I am usually a bit dubious about people using the Munby/Cullwick relationship (it's one of those things that keeps getting revisited, and with my archivist's hat on, can't help thinking that that is because there is already a huge beaten track to their papers), but I was really excited by how McClintock used it as the basis for thick description of the wider context.

Pamela Cox, Gender, Justice and Welfare in Britain,1900-1950: Bad Girls in Britain, 1900-1950 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). I had to skim over some sections of this because I had it on InterLibrary Loan for a very short period, but it's brilliant stuff on 'delinquent girls' and the ways girls who were seen as 'wayward' and in need of control and who were seen as 'vulnerable' and in need of care got sucked into a twilight zone of public/private provisions. And that whatever the girls were actually doing, the basic problem was seen as being about sex.

Stephen Cretney, Family Law in the Twentieth Century; A History (OUP, 2003), This is wonderful. Okay, I don't think I, or anybody, would want to sit down and read the whole thing straight through, it's a big fat book in which on most pages the footnotes take up more than half the space, but it just so clearly lays out the law and how it got to be that way and how the changes happened and what the unintended consequences were. It even told me something I hadn't known about the 1857 Divorce Law (a by-product of the desire to have a less labyrinthine probate system than was the case under the various ecclesiastical jurisdictions).

Thursday 11 August 2011

Communicating Reproduction Conference

Another event from the Generation to Reproduction research Group at Cambridge. I greatly enjoyed their Reproduction and the Sciences conference last April

Communicating Reproduction

A conference to be held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, on 5–6 December 2011
Scholars have explored continuities and discontinuities in theories of sex and gender; knowledge of entities such as seeds, germs, embryos, monsters and clones; concerns about creation, evolution, degeneration and regeneration; investments in maternity, paternity and heredity; practices of fertility control, potency and childbirth; and health relations between citizen and state, individual and population. But we have paid much less attention to the huge changes in processes and media of communication. There is important work on specific practices, from education to advertising, conversation to mass entertainment, and on specific media, from ritual objects to printed books, films to the internet. But we lack synthetic and comparative accounts. This conference aims to explore how we might best ground debates about reproduction in changing practices of communication over the long term, though primarily within the Western tradition. Nor is reproduction just a lens through which to view the history of communication. For generation and reproduction are themselves potent metaphors for communication. Richard de Bury wrote in Philobiblon (1345) of the making of books as a form of generation across time and modern authors often frame the distribution of identical copies in terms of mechanical reproduction.
The conference will bring together scholars representing ancient to modern periods and various disciplines. Talks will be 20-minute summaries of pre-circulated papers, followed by commentary and discussion in one-hour slots in such a way as to promote dialogue and critical engagement between fields and approaches.
Speakers and provisional titles:
  • Helen King (Open University)
    Educating Lucina: midwives and the communication of reproductive knowledge, ancient and early modern
  • Montserrat Cabré (Universidad de Cantabria, Spain)
    Iberian recipes and the appropriation of knowledge in relation to human reproduction
  • Catherine Rider (University of Exeter)
    Communicating religious views of infertility in the Middle Ages
  • Jennifer Richards (Newcastle University)
    'Issue dangerous to the Queen': pregnancy and politics in the Elizabethan polity
  • Mary Fissell (The Johns Hopkins University)
    Making a masterpiece from bits and pieces
  • Angelique Richardson (University of Exeter)
    Reproduction and the post-Darwinian novel
  • Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter)
    Reproducing species
  • Wendy Kline (University of Cincinnati)
    Coming home: modern midwifery and the controversy over home birth
  • Solveig Jülich (Stockholm University)
    The Lennart Nilsson-industry: remediating images of life before birth
  • Uta Schwarz (Cologne)
    Introduction to the film Helga (1967)
  • Ludmilla Jordanova (King's College, London)
    Closing comments
Organisers: Nick Hopwood, Peter Jones, Lauren Kassell, Francis Neary, Jim Secord
Funding: Wellcome Trust strategic award in the history of medicine on Generation to Reproduction
The registration fee of £40 (£20 for students/unwaged) includes lunch and tea/coffee on both days, a reception in the Books & Babies exhibition at the University Library and the film screening.
To register, please fill in the registration form and send it with a cheque for the registration fee (made payable to 'University of Cambridge') to:
Francis Neary
Communicating Reproduction Conference
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Cambridge
Free School Lane

Saturday 6 August 2011

Population Investigation Committee Symposium Podcast

Back in February I participated in this symposium on the Population Investigation Committee. Podcasts of the contributions are now available, though I'm not sure how much sense mine will make without the accompanying copious pictures from other collections in the Wellcome Library that I was talking about.

Friday 5 August 2011

Forthcoming Sexual Cultures conference


This conference, co-hosted by the Onscenity Research Network and the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences at Brunel University, will take place on April 20-22 2012 at Brunel University, London, UK.

Our keynote speakers are:

Martin Barker, Professor of Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University, UK

Violet Blue, blogger, columnist, sex educator, and author, US

Judith Halberstam, Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity and Gender Studies, University of Southern California, US

Katrien Jacobs, Associate Professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong

Fiona Patten, Australian Sex Party

The key themes of the conference are:

Sex and technology

Technologies of all kinds have been central to the ways in which sex is understood and experienced in contemporary societies. We are interested in papers that explore evolving technologies in the presentation of sex through print, photography, film and video to todays online and mobile media; the ways that technologies are increasingly integrated into everyday sex lives; the expansion of sex technologies in toy, doll, machine and robot manufacture, the marketing of drugs such as Viagra and cosmetic technologies such as body modification and genital surgery for enhancing sex; the expansion of sex work and recreation online; sex 2.0 practices, regimes and environments such as porn tubes, sex chat rooms and worlds like Second Life; and the shifting relations between bodies and machines in the present and in predictions of futuresex.

The regulation of sex

Papers in this strand of the conference will examine how sexuality and the ways in which it is represented are the focus of government policy and subject to various forms of regulation. In democratic societies, sexuality is generally thought to be the domain of the private and personal, outside the ambit of the law whose function in this sphere is simply to maintain public decency. Yet vast amounts of institutional effort and resources are invested in what has come to be called moral regulation, in which self-governance and moral discourse are generally preferred to coercive forms of regulation. At the same time, governments continue to make certain forms of sexual practice and representation illegal. What are the limits of the legally possible today, both in terms of sexual behaviour and representation, and what are the various means employed to encourage us to behave properly in the sexual domain?

Working sex

In recent years sex work has become a potent site for the discussion of labour, commerce and sexual ethics, attracting increased academic attention and public concern. Papers in this strand of the conference will seek to develop our understanding of commercial sex, focus on conceptualizing emerging types of sexual labour, and explore the place of sex work of all kinds in contemporary society. They will ask how an investigation of contemporary forms of sex work and sex as work may shed new light on the study of cultural production, industry, commerce, and notions of commodification and labour. We are also seeking papers which are interested in exploring the connections between work and leisure, work and pleasure, sex work as forms of body and affective labour, and the ethics and politics of sexual labour.

Researching everyday sex

Research into sexuality can often be caught in a politics of anxiety where it is constructed as something that needs to be managed, protected and even guarded against. Sexuality is also understood as absolutely intrinsic to our sense of identity, an important indicator of mental and emotional health and a form of intimate communication and individual fulfillment, as well as an important site of pleasure and play. Papers in this strand of the conference will take as their focus the diverse sexual identities, practices, representations, values and experiences that make up the mundane and spectacular elements of everyday sexual life. We seek papers that examine the politics and/or ethics of researching everyday sexualities, as well as the lived realities of sex in the quotidian.

We invite proposals for the following:

Panels and roundtable discussions of up to four speakers

Papers (20 minutes)

Short Ignite papers (5 minutes/20 slides)


Deadline for the submission of proposals is October 31 2011.

For all individual papers please submit a 150 word abstract and 150 word biographical note.

Please indicate which key theme of the conference your paper belongs to.

For panels and roundtable sessions please submit a 600-800 overview and set of abstracts with 150 word biographical notes.

Please indicate which key theme of the conference your paper belongs to.

Please submit your proposals to

Onscenity is funded by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council and draws together international experts in order to respond to the new visibility or onscenity of sex in commerce, culture and everyday life. The network is committed to working towards developing new approaches to the relationships between sex, commerce, media and technology. Drawing on the work of leading scholars from around the world, it aims to map a transformed landscape of sexual practices and co-ordinate a new wave of research.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Exhibition of interest in Cambridge

Organised by the group whose conference I attended and enjoyed back in April:

Books & Babies: Communicating Reproduction 
7 July–23 December 2011
(Closed 29 August and 12–18 September inclusive)
Monday-Friday 09.00-18.00, Saturday 09.00-16.30, Sunday closed
Admission Free

The London underground displays posters for fertility clinics, directed
at both women and men. Picture books teach children the facts of life.
We are always reading about reproduction. Reproduction also describes
what communication media do — multiply images, sounds and text for wider
consumption. This exhibition is about these two senses of reproduction,
about babies and books, and the ways in which they have interacted in
the past and continue to interact today.

Before reproduction there was generation, a broader view of how all
things come into being than the fusion of egg and sperm. Before
electronic media there were clay figurines, papyrus, parchment, printed
books and journals. The interactions between communication media and
ideas about reproduction have transformed the most intimate aspects of
our lives.

/Books and Babies/ traces these interactions from ancient fertility
figures and medieval manuscripts to the birth of Louise Brown following
in vitro fertilization in 1978. The media sensation that surrounded her
arrival illustrates how modern reproductive ‘miracles’ have been
publicised worldwide. The research with Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy
that led Robert Edwards to win the Nobel Prize reveals the varied roles
of communication within and around the laboratory.

The exhibition opens with a chronological story of the books and other
objects that have been central to communicating reproduction from
ancient times to the present day. We move from theories of human
generation to the modern dilemmas of reproductive choice and population
control, and from handwritten documents to digital media. Other elements
pursue particular themes: communication in reproductive research, the
long life of a single advice manual (/Aristotle’s Masterpiece/), the
evolutionary epic of the ‘Ascent of Man’, ‘Extraordinary Births’ as
news, and the rise of ‘Population Arithmetick’. 
Funded by a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award in the History of Medicine on
'Generation to Reproduction'

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Jane Lewis, The End of Marriage: Individualism and Intimate Relations (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2001)

Useful study of marriage (mostly in the UK) at the turn of the millennium, though I do rather wish it had come out just a little later and included the advent of civil partnership and how that is involved in marriage paradigms. Contests the notion that we are now in an age of selfish individualism and career-driven women, suggesting that connections and relationships remain important, and that broad brush characterisations overlook enormous amounts of complexity (e.g. women who do have a commitment to a career, and women who are economically obliged to work but don't make it their first priority).

However, marriage rates are falling, people are marrying at a later age and not necessarily having children: ' In one generation, the numbers marrying have halved, the numbers divorcing have trebled and the proportion of children born outside marriage has quadrupled.' But, (as in earlier periods) a significant number of those children born outside wedlock are actually being parented within stable cohabiting relationships.

Very helpful general background of statistics,  legal changes, changing attitudes etc framing a small qualitative study of stable married and cohabiting couples with children and why they chose that. Marriage usually the outcome of a cohabiting relationship - time to get married, often associated with desire to begin a family, but couples who do not marry and have children tend to wait until the relationship has reached a certain point of stability. Moving in together and investing in property as a sign of commitment. Extent to which couples' families come to accept them as as good as married. A certain amount of generational shift from outside validation of relationships to an inward individual commitment. What people think is important in relationships and how they balance up perceptions about e.g. unpaid labour within them. Negotation and communication rather than wife 'getting round' husband.

While cohabitees would like some recognition of their status, there's also a resistance to creating actual explicit contracts between the couple.

The ever-persisting class/poverty dimension - single mothers are likely to be poorer, if they cohabit it is often more of a drift than a specific choice, context of lives already somewhat chaotic, but there may be rational choice element in the context of what options are available to them.

Lots of useful points. Though in the light of several articles I've been reading about earlier periods and the ways in which people's lives did not match up to hegemonic contemporary paradigms of marriage , how far is this just certain relationship patterns becoming more visible, and perhaps more openly accepted (rather than the convention of e.g. women changing their names to the man's if they couldn't marry).