skip to primary navigationskip to content

Gender and Sexuality

Graduate Conference Series

This Graduate Conference Series is a well-established forum of all those interested in the historical dimensions of gender, sexuality, feminism and masculinity. We encourage submissions from Masters and PhD students, as well as early career researchers, working on gender and sexuality (broadly defined) from any time period.

Although gender and sexuality are the overriding themes of the workshop, we welcome submissions that consider how these themes can be applied to a broader range of historical events, periods, mentalités, people or processes. Most of those who attend the workshop regularly do not necessarily consider themselves gender scholars, but have nevertheless welcomed the opportunity that the workshop provides to consider the historical role that gender can play in even the seemingly unlikeliest of situations. 

The workshop provides an opportunity to present finished or work-in-progress research to a friendly and supportive audience of your peers. Papers are likely to be 20-30 minutes in length, but we welcome submissions for longer formats or shorter paired papers for panel discussion. The format and length are flexible and the paper can be given in the manner that best suits the presenter’s material with discussion to follow.

We meet fortnightly in term at Clare College, on alternate Wednesdays, for an hour from 13:00. Please feel free to bring your lunch.



Fred E. Smith (fes40)

Michelle M. Greenfield-Liebst (mml36)

Owen Brittan (ob293)

Easter 2017 Schedule


26th April (Latimer Room, Clare College)

Callie Wilkinson: “Female Political Agency and British Imperial Influence at Indian Royal Courts, 1798-1818”

Gender figures prominently in the historiography of ‘British’ India, the territories directly administered by the East India Company. Historians have noted how Indian women cohabiting with British men operated as key cultural brokers, and how gender constructs informed Anglo-Indian interactions more generally. Yet, analyses of the Company’s relations with independent Indian kingdoms have neglected how evolving forms of indirect rule were shaped by the agency of elite women and the confrontation of British and Indian gender constructs. Though previously disregarded, royal women were active in Indian courtly politics, and were often the best allies or worst enemies of the Company’s representatives (Residents). Through a combination of Residents’ papers and letters authored by Indian women, I show how the Resident’s gendered assumptions conditioned their reactions to female political agency at Indian courts, as well as how royal women exploited gender tropes to mobilize the political elite, including the Residents, in their interests. Though British and Indian gender constructs differed in crucial respects, there were also many concordances, creating the potential for cooperation as well as conflict between Residents and royal women. Recognizing these nuances sheds new light on the Company’s imperial expansion, highlighting women’s role in abetting, exploiting or resisting the Company’s political incursions.


10th May

Nailya Shamgunova: “Prisoners of the emotional system: royal authority and sodomy in early modern Europe”

This paper explores the roles which accusations and suspicions of illicit sexual behaviour, especially sodomy, played in the construction and deconstruction of royal authority in early modern Europe. The paper focuses on the case study of James VI&I and compares him to Henri III of France. By its very nature, the paper discusses the relationships between the rulers and their favourites and the boundaries of what was and wasn’t seen as acceptable. The study maps out the extent to which authority, be it royal or civic, was held responsible for the subjects' and citizens' sexual morality. James VI&I officially condemned sodomy and was expected to persecute it. However, a number of rumours about his own sexual preferences circulated both during his lifetime and after his death. The paper argues that despite these widespread rumours about the king's sexual behaviour, they did not damage his authority nearly as much as they should have done. The ruler's sexual behaviour became a real political problem only when combined with political instability and perceived failure in other kingly duties, be it having an heir or dealing effectively with political crisis. The example of Henri III shows that very clearly. The context of deposition and/or regicide also provides further scope for legitimising sexual rumours, as the cases of Henri III and Christina of Sweden show. This paper is a part of my wider project on the connection between effeminacy, sodomy and authority in early modern Europe - my prime aim is to explore the connection between European perceptions of the 'Orient' and 'oriental despotism' and the portrayal of a number of 'eastern' polities, especially the Ottoman Empire, as a 'sodomitical nation'. In the ‘oriental’ context, the questions of effeminacy and emasculating influence on the rulers by their lovers (for example, Hurrem Sultan) were absolutely essential; my study traces the parallels and direct connections between these issues in Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire.