History of Sexuality in Early America

American Studies Seminar
Sarah Anne Carter

In this seminar, 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 Papers

  • "Purity Lost: A Literary Look at Virginity in the Nineteenth-Century," by Andrew Barnes (Assumption College)
  • "Successes, Failures, and Hidden Agendas: The Real Motivations Behind the 19th Century Anti-Abortion Movement and the Resulting Outcomes," by Julianne Campbell (College of the Holy Cross)
  • "Learning to Please: The Construction of Elite Female Self and Sexuality in the Antebellum South, 1820-1860," by Madeline DeDe-Panken (Clark University)
  • "Marketing Oneida: Community Publications and the Reality of Life in the Oneida Community," by Jeremy Foster (Clark University)
  • "Joseph A. Whitmarsh: A Forgotten Crusader for Dismantling the Gendered Double Standard of Sexual Immorality," by Cristin Johnson (College of the Holy Cross)
  • "Repressed or Oversexed? An Examination of Puritan Sexual Ideology and Practice," by Thomas McGinley (Assumption College)
  • "A Product of Its Environment: An Analysis of The Octoroon and Rienzi in the Context of the Bowery Theatre and the Nineteenth Century," by Shuchi Mitra (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
  • "'Circumstances Rendered it Necessary:' Narratives of Male Impersonators in the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century," by Marybeth Mulligan (Assumption College)
  • "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," by Brian Patacchiola (Worcester State University)
  • "'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," by Joseph Tutino (College of the Holy Cross)

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