Early American Transgender Studies

American Studies Seminar
Jen Manion

Page from a children's literature pamphlet titled The Tom-Boy who was Changed into a Real BoyA revolution in transgender rights in the United States is underway. Once marginalized and denigrated by mainstream society, the medical establishment, the legal system, and even the lesbian and gay rights movement, transgender people are increasingly gaining rights and recognition. This seminar will survey a wide range of transgender practices from the past and explore the intersection between the fields of early American history and transgender studies. Students will work extensively with the American Antiquarian Society archival riches, including newspapers, dime novels, children’s literature, crime fiction, adventure narratives, and reports from carceral institutions. The course will cover key theories of gender from the eighteenth century to the present, including the ways in which gender intersects with race, class, and sexuality. We will explore the methodological issues involved in researching sexual and gender minority communities that predate our contemporary concepts of identity and our rapidly changing terminology. Students will conduct an original research paper based on the archival holdings of the American Antiquarian Society. All-gender, single-user restrooms are readily accessible to the classroom.

Jen ManionJen Manion is associate professor of history at Amherst College. Jen is author of Liberty's Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015) and coeditor of Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism (Routledge, 2004). Manion is currently writing a book on the nineteenth-century transgender past.

group photo of class

The following American Studies Seminar research papers were written by students in the 2018 seminar:

  • "Cross-Dressing in the Old West," by Amy Angell
  • "The Tension between Art and Life on the Early American Stage, 1840-1915," by Emily Arancio
  • "Gender in Native American Cultures," by Allison Bach
  • "Abolition and the Construction of the Black and Queer Criminal Archetype in the Nineteenth Century U.S.," by Eric F. Barrese
  • "The Lord is my Shepard and He Knows that I am Gay: The Influence of the Christian Church on Gender and Sexuality in the 18th and 19th Century New England," by John Blake
  • "Disorderly Children: Nineteenth-Century Constructions of Childhood Through the Lens of Gender," by Aitana Doster
  • "'Wild, Romping Girls': Redefining the Nineteenth Century American Tomboy," by Kaitlyn Meehan
  • "'Known by the name assumed': Gender Transgression and Transdressing in the Nineteenth Century American Popular Fiction," by Kate Miller-Vickers
  • "Gender Transgression in Nineteenth Century Freak Shows and Circuses," by Davina Tomlin

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