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The University of Southampton

LGBT History Month: A short history of the Homosexual

Published: 28 February 2020
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As LGBT History Month comes to a close, we take a look at one of the University’s most innovative and successful History modules.

Professor Mark Cornwall and Dr Julie Gammon established the “Short history of the Homosexual” course more than ten years ago, making the Southampton one of the first universities in the UK to teach LGBT history to its students.

Students on the course look at case studies from around the world, from ancient times through to the contemporary. Key themes for study are societal attitudes to same sex relationships, treatment of homosexuality in the Law, how the medical profession has viewed homosexuality and LGBT rights activism.

“The students who sign up are really passionate about this subject as it relates current debates.” explains Dr Gammon “We continue to evolve the course and now also explore the history of Trans issues, looking back as far as the 13th century.”

The course draws on a wide range of historical sources including religious texts, art and literature, records of criminal proceedings, individual diaries detailing personal experiences and medical texts. Contemporary films such as the 1961 British film “Victim” also help students explore historical views and stimulate discussions.  

Although persecution is a common theme in the material, students are often surprised to discover that attitudes throughout history were not exclusively negative. “When we look at case studies through history we can see peaks and troughs in levels of tolerance,” says Professor Cornwall adding that, contrary to popular understanding, homosexuality is barely mentioned in the Bible. “This is not about challenging anyone’s religious beliefs but students find it fascinating to look at what the Bible actually says about homosexuality in context and how it has been interpreted throughout history,” he continued.

The course is consistently fully subscribed by third year History students with around 60 joining each year. “Over the years the course has produced many high quality dissertations with students telling us how it has challenged their perceptions on why we study history.” Dr Gammon added.

In recent years, interest in the subject matter has spread widely across the University and the community of students studying the course and staff have built strong relationships with Pulse, the LGBT+ staff network and the Students’ Union to put on events to highlight LGBT issues. Since they have organised the annual public “Stonewall Lecture”, the most recent of which took place this month. Over 170 people attended to watch Dr Jill Liddington speak about “Writing Anne Lister - the Real 'Gentleman Jack'" which was recently made into a BBC TV series.


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