American Studies Seminar - 2010

History of Sexuality in early America

The 2010 seminar focused on the history of sexuality in early America. The seminar was led by Sarah Anne Carter, a cultural historian (and former AAS fellow) who received her Ph.D. in American Civilization from Harvard University.

In this honors seminar for undergraduates, students were introduced to the interdisciplinary study of sexuality in early America through primary source research in the unparalleled archival holdings of the American Antiquarian Society. Over the course of the semester students moved from the study of prescriptions for appropriate sexual behavior to descriptions of many different forms of sexual experience. While it is often tempting to think of the past as a time when sexuality was either more .traditional. or more .repressed.. depending on one.s standpoint.scholars of early American culture and society instead find evidence of extreme sexual diversity. From the colonial to the antebellum periods, many different voices spoke loudly about the power, pleasure, science, and spirituality of sex. Readings and discussions introduced students to major themes in early American sexuality studies. These readings prepared students to consider possible research topics in light of trends in the extant scholarship. Additionally, students read monographs that modeled how scholars use various documents to understand sexualities in the past. This literature helped students situate visual, literary, and documentary representations of sex in the context of large-scale historical forces such as colonization, slavery, war, reform movements, nation-building, and the rise of scientific thought.

The final portion of the course focused on students' original research projects, for which the students conducted original research in the AAS collections. During the final two sessions, the students made capstone presentations in which they described their research process and reported their findings.

Final Projects

  • Andrew Barnes, Assumption College, "Purity Lost: A Literary Look at Virginity in the Nineteenth-Century"
  • Julianne Campbell, College of the Holy Cross, "Successes, Failures, and Hidden Agendas: The Real Motivations Behind the 19th Century Anti-Abortion Movement and the Resulting Outcomes"
  • Madeline DeDe-Panken, Clark University, "Learning to Please: The Construction of Elite Female Self and Sexuality in the Antebellum South, 1820-1860"
  • Jeremy Foster, Clark University, "Marketing Oneida: Community Publications and the Reality of Life in the Oneida Community"
  • Cristin Johnson, College of the Holy Cross, "Joseph A. Whitmarsh: A Forgotten Crusader for Dismantling the Gendered Double Standard of Sexual Immorality"
  • Thomas McGinley, Assumption College, "Repressed or Oversexed? An Examination of Puritan Sexual Ideology and Practice"
  • Shuchi Mitra, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, "A Product of Its Environment: An Analysis of The Octoroon and Rienzi in the Context of the Bowery Theatre and the Nineteenth Century"
  • Marybeth Mulligan, Assumption College, "'Circumstances Rendered it Necessary:' Narratives of Male Impersonators in the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century"
  • Brian Patacchiola, Worcester State University, "A Tale of Two Cities: A Comparative Study of the Development and Extent of Prostitution in New York City and St. Louis Missouri from 1850 to 1900"
  • Joseph Tutino, College of the Holy Cross, "'Am I Not A Woman and A Sister?': Harriet Ann Jacobs, Lydia Maria Child and the Appeal of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in Nineteenth Century America"

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