My Website

Monday 30 January 2012

Various forthcoming events

The Poynter Lecture at the Wellcome: Shocking Bodies 21 March 2012, 18.00 - 19.00

And also Wellcome related: Classical Archaeology Seminar at the Institute of Classical Studies in London: Jennifer Grove (Exeter) - Henry Wellcome's Classical Erotica: sexually related antiquities collected for the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in the early 20th C, Feb 22, 5.00 pm in Senate House South Block Room G22/26 (email organiser in advance)

New Histories of Love and Romance, c.1880-1960 25-26 May 2012 University of Glamorgan, Cardiff
'Women in Magazines' conference at Kingston University, London, on 22-23 June 2012

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Website updates

I've recently made some small updates and additions to Literary Abortion and Victorian Sex Factoids and caught up on Recommended Reading.

I also (now some months ago) put in a fair amount of updating on the Victorian Sexuality Bibliography but it's hard to keep up with what's coming out.

I've recently added the English version of the paper that was the basis for my piece 'Sessualita e storia: obiettive raggiunti e sfide future', 'In Evidenza: Sessualita e storia', Contemporanea, XIV/4, ottobre 2011: Sexuality and history: achievements and challenges. A personal view.

Plus the usual ongoing weekly quotation and such information as I can glean about forthcoming conferences and similar events.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Reprised for this year's LGBT Month

My Wellcome Library 'Insights' talk, From Deviance to Diversity on 9th February, at 3 pm
Using a broad range of materials from the Wellcome Library, this Insights session demonstrates the gradual changes in medical and scientific understanding of sexual identity, the bringing about of changes in the law, and the development of more tolerant social attitudes.
Free, but numbers limited.

Monday 23 January 2012

Links of interest

Interview with Hanne Blank, The invention of the heterosexual

On the Voluntary Action History Society blog, an interesting post about Mrs Cecil Chesterton's In Darkest London in which she described her participant observation of facilities for homeless women in the 1920s.

Olive Schreiner Letters Online

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.

Friday 20 January 2012

Sex Sin and Suffering in paperback

I am gratified to be able to announce that Roger Davidson and Lesley A. Hall (eds), Sex, Sin and Suffering: venereal disease and European Society since 1870, first published in 2001, is now available in paperback rather than an hardback edition priced for libraries rather than individuals. It can be purchased directly from Routledge at their website as well as from Amazon (which also has a Kindle edition, but the paperback is significantly cheaper).

The books includes chapters on the UK (with one specifically on Scotland), France, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Germany, Italy and Sweden in Europe itself and also addresses the colonial context, both generally and in essays on Uganda and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Julia Laite, Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial sex in London, 1885-1960

This was a book that I was been ardently anticipating: this was a woefully understudied period in the history of prostitution in the UK, and I have been aware of Laite's work in the area for some years. It does not disappoint.

Its great strength (among many) is its attentiveness to the quotidien business of prostitution and its policing in the metropolis, rather than policy debates and the work of rescue movements. While Laite gives due attention to the various government interventions, both actual legislation and the work of commissions and committees, she is always focused on how developments reflected what was going on on the street and how they impacted the way sex work was regulated.

What becomes clear is the enormous diversity of practices, both in the ways women engaged in exchanging sexual acts for hire and in the means the authorities took to, if not prevent this, to keep it from becoming a perceived source of public annoyance. Since actually trading sex for money is not illegal in the UK, the endeavour to control it took various forms, and Laite does a masterly job of showing the means the police used to harry working women. Besides the oft-criticised 'solicitation' charge - whereby a woman already known to be 'a common prostitute' could be arrested and fined for 'soliciting to the annoyance of the public', even if nobody testified to being actually annoyed - various other strategies could be deployed. During the Second World War, for example, prostitutes using taxis to pick up clients and as a place to have intercourse with them could be prosecuted under wartime edicts concerning wastage of petrol.

The work also demonstrates that despite all the attempts of police, magistrates and moral reformers to designate the 'common prostitute' as a being apart, the boundaries were always fuzzy and women sex workers were part of larger communities and had other identities. Depicted in the media usually either as pathetic victims or scheming harpies, these women - many of whose stories can be recuperated from documentary sources - were doing their best to get by in a harsh world and making the best of their lot.

Ironically largely as a result of increasingly constraining legislation, numerous third parties were significantly involved in the world of sex work. Besides the taxi drivers providing mobile brothel facilities already mentioned, there were many intermediaries and facilitators profiting from the trade, landlords, owners of pubs, cafes and nightclubs, quite apart from the most obvious and stigmatised third party, the ponce or pimp. Prostitution formed part of a wider economy of entertainment and recreation in the city.

This is an extremely important book with a lot to say about commercial sex, women's labour, urban life, policing, and some really rather depressing continuities in attitudes, policies and moral panics.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Lucy Delap, The Feminist Avant-Garde: Transatlantic Encounters of the Early Twentieth Century (2007)

This is a very useful study of a neglected strand within and around feminism before World War I. It's particularly strong at looking at the controversial and short-lived yet influential journal The Freewoman and going beyond the perhaps overmuch rehearsed account of the debates on sexuality for which it provided a forum, important as those were - they were far from the whole story. It also points up the surprising (with the perspective of a century between) fuzziness of the suffrage/anti-suffrage distinction: a number of scholars have pointed out that anti-suffragists managed to combine a belief that women should not have the vote with a commitment to various causes within the public sphere and indeed aimed at the advancement of women (such as Mrs Humphrey Ward's work for women's higher education), but Delap also shows that a number of self-declared feminists, whether active in the suffrage movement, sympathetic, or disillusioned with the way the struggle was being taken, had attitudes towards other women which were far from sisterly and supportive.

It is valuable to have a nuanced account of how the movements in the UK and the USA influenced one another or produced local mutations of transatlantic developments, and also the influence of certain significant European figures. A whole book could perhaps be written about the place of Swedish feminist reformer Ellen Key's work in different national contexts.

Delap also looks at the extraordinarily heterogenous, not to mention counter-intuitive, sources upon which women were drawing to articulate their discontents with society, the position of women, etc and to advance solutions. The focus tends to be on the more individualistic, rather than collectivist, trend within feminism at the period, though  in many cases the commitment to the development of the individual sat next to involvement in various forms of collective activism and programmes aimed at producing an impact on society as a whole.

This study reveals long-standing fracture lines between different feminisms, and also depicts certain phenomena which are perhaps reflected in other periods: for example, reading Delap's account of the turn to interiority, contemplation of the psyche, and the importance of the individual liberating herself from mind-forged manacles I was strongly reminded of directions taken following the renaissance of feminism as 'Women's Lib' in the late 1960s. During the 1970s there was a similar commitment to personal change, which took individuals down many different paths, including the teachings of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Another exciting conference in Cambridge on the histories of reproductive matters

Transforming Pregnancy Since 1900

29–30 March 2012
Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

Around 1900, few pregnant women in Europe or North America had any contact with a medical practitioner before going into labour. By the second half of the twentieth century, the hospitalization of childbirth, the legalization of abortion and a host of biomedical technologies from the home pregnancy test and IVF to obstetric ultrasound and prenatal genetic diagnosis promised unprecedented control. New regulatory frameworks, changing relations between expectant mothers and medical practitioners and technologies for diagnosing, monitoring and intervening in pregnancy offer rich histories to explore. With scholarly writing predominantly dispersed among local studies of maternity care or focused on specific innovations, we lack a synthetic account of transformations in the management, experience and understanding of pregnancy across the whole twentieth century. This conference aims to break new ground by investigating the making, organization and communication of knowledge around pregnancy among experts and laypeople in Britain, France and the United States since 1900.
This interdisciplinary conference will bring together scholars with expertise in the history, sociology and anthropology of reproduction. Talks will be 10-minute summaries and commentaries of pre-circulated papers, followed by discussion in 50-minute slots in such a way as to promote dialogue and critical engagement between fields and approaches.
  • Salim Al-Gailani (University of Cambridge): Folic Acid: Making a Technology of Pre-Pregnancy
  • Caroline Arni (University of Basel): The Psychic Life of Pregnant Women: Early Twentieth-Century Prenatal Psychology
  • Tatjana Buklijas (Liggins Institute, New Zealand): Fetal Physiology, Nutrition Research and the Origins of the Barker Hypothesis
  • Angela Davis (University of Warwick): 'Heroes and Stoics': Women's Narratives of Maternity Care, c.1945–1990
  • Rose Elliot (University of Glasgow): Abortion, Miscarriage or Criminal Feticide? Medical Understandings of Early Pregnancy Loss in Britain, c.1900–1967
  • Ofra Koffman (King's College London): Temporary Crisis or Life-Long Disorder? Adolescence, Unwed Motherhood and Mental Pathology
  • Ilana Löwy (CNRS, Paris): Looking for Malformations, Looking for Risks: Fifty Years of Prenatal Diagnosis
  • Aryn Martin (York University, Canada): 'Something there is that doesn't love a wall': The Elusive Placental Barrier in Medical and Popular Health Discourse
  • Deborah Nicholson (University of the West of Scotland): 'Unseen Citizens': Ultrasonic Fetal Images and Narratives of Life Before Birth
  • Jesse Olszynko-Gryn (University of Cambridge): Diagnosing Pregnancy in the 1930s
  • Amanda Raphael (Independent Scholar): Deep Breaths and a Nice Cup of Tea: Antenatal Education Since the 1950s
  • Leslie Reagan (University of Illinois): Avoiding 'Monstrous' Babies Through Prenatal Care: Rubella, Girls, and Vaccination
The registration fee of £30 (£15 for students/unwaged) includes lunch and tea/coffee on both days. 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:
Salim Al-Gailani
Transforming Pregnancy Conference
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Cambridge
Free School Lane
Registration form
Organisers: Salim Al-Gailani (Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge), Angela Davis (Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick) and Jesse Olszynko-Gryn (Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge).
Supported by a Wellcome Trust strategic award in the history of medicine to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum.
For further details, contact Salim Al-Gailani .

Monday 9 January 2012

‘Women, Health and Welfare’ Women's History Network Southern Branch Spring Meeting

Kingston University’s Centre for the Historical Record (CHR) will host the Spring 2012 one-day conference organised by the Women’s History Network, Southern Branch. The topic is deliberately broad to encourage a wide range of papers and participants interested in the history of women’s health and welfare. In resonance with the CHR’s remit to promote public history, the conference seeks to identify themes from history which resonate with women’s experiences of health and welfare today, and can inform policy makers. Proposals for papers are invited that relate to women either as receivers or providers of health and welfare, in any time period. We are particularly interested in papers which discuss these twin themes in women’s history in the context of public history, which may include a discussion of available archival sources and records. Conference themes might include those listed below, but we would be interested to receive papers on any theme which falls within the broad remit of the conference, as described above.
Women and Health
  • Physical health - different understandings of ‘illness’ and the medicalisation of women’s bodies
  • Mental health - changing ideas about treatment and perceptions of women’s relationship with their inner selves
  • Sexuality and medical discourse
Women and Welfare
  • The impact of welfare policy on women
  • The impact of women on welfare policy
  • Women as consumers of welfare
Public History
  • How can women’s history direct or inform modern media debates in matters relating to women’s health and welfare
  • How can women’s history help inform current policy on women’s health and welfare
  • How well is women’s health represented in archives; and discussions on accessibility to relevant records
Please send a proposal of 250 words and a short biographical note to Sue Hawkins ( or Nicola Phillips ( The deadline for the submission of proposals is 16 January 2012.

Sunday 8 January 2012

It is a pleasure to do this

I shall be having a conversation with Julia Laite about her important new book, Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commerical Sex in London, 1885-1960 (Palgrave, 2011) at her book launch at Birkbeck College, University of London, on Friday 13th January.

If you are interested in attending or would like further details, please contact Julia.

I hope to be providing a review of the book here in due course. but I would already strongly recommend it as a study of a relatively neglected period in this topic.