WOMENSTD 698 - Special Seminar
Section: 001 Early Modern Sexualities
Term: FA 2018
Subject: Women's Studies (WOMENSTD)
Department: LSA Women's Studies
Advisory Prerequisites:
Graduate standing, and one graduate course in WOMENSTD.
May be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

What does it mean to “have sex” in the early modern period? What does it mean for early moderns to “know” sex—both what it is and what it means? What does it mean for us to have knowledge of sex when it is textually mediated as well as so distant in time? What is the meaning of a “sex act,” both now and then? How does “sex” relate to desire, subjectivity, gender, race, and religion? How does the emergence of imperial aspirations (and the reality of competing empires) affect knowledge of others’ sexual practices, and how does this knowledge refract back on “English” sexualities? How do powerful precursors of sexual representation, such as Ovid, impact the terms of sexuality in early modern literature? And how does “sex” relate to language, genre, and literary form?

This seminar will explore methods for reading and knowing sexuality in early modern literature, with an eye to how sexuality has been historicized, theorized, and periodized. Reading a diverse range of early modern texts, from lyric poetry to stageplays to pornography, we will survey many of the major topics and debates in the field of early modern sexuality/queer studies. Weekly discussions will focus on such topics as sodomy, erotic friendship, lesbianism, crossdressing, sex transformation and trans* identities, virginity, chastity, coercion and violence, consent, wit and humor, pornography, whoredom, disability, the racialization of sex, and empire. We will consider the extent to which sex in the period is gendered, classed, and racialized in ways both similar to and different from sex in modernity. We will consider how different approaches (historicist, psychoanalytic, feminist, queer) have produced varying accounts of sexuality as an object of inquiry. We will try out various methods for reading sex and for confronting the limits of our ability to read it. And we will reflect critically on questions of evidence, subjectivity, language use, tropes, genre, theatricality, editing, temporality, and periodization.

One aim of this seminar is to problematize sexual knowledge even as we maintain the importance of pursuing it. A central question for the term will be: What does it mean to “know” sexuality, and how do we know it? We thus will treat sex as an epistemological problem as well as an issue of identity (or non-identity). We will track where and when sex resists our efforts to know as well as where and when it seems to yield itself up in the form of knowledge. While we will consider the ways that sexual practices and the transmission of sexual knowledge enable identities and communities, both in the early modern period and today, we will also consider the ways such that appeals to identity and community can serve as a decoy for sexual knowledge itself.

In order to provide a history of the field of sexuality studies, a sense of its central texts, and current debates, this course will emphasize reading as well as being part of a critical conversation. Our work together will be augmented by deliberate staging of the steps necessary to research, write and deliver a successful conference paper. Engaged participation should result in an understanding of:

  • a wide range of primary texts concerned with sexuality across a diverse set of discourses;
  • how the history of early modern sexuality has been defined and pursued;
  • how literary criticism has both depended on and contributed to the history of sexuality;
  • how debates within queer and trans* studies about orientation, history, teleology, modernity, and biology have influenced early modern scholarship;
  • the contested legacy of feminism within both the history of sexuality and queer theory;
  • the complex, yet co-constitutive relations among race, empire and sexuality;
  • how to develop an “intersectional” method when it comes to sex.
  • how to approach researching and writing a conference paper in an organized fashion.

WOMENSTD 698 - Special Seminar
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
1Graduate Standing
M 4:00PM - 7:00PM
002 (SEM)
3Graduate Standing
W 4:00PM - 6:30PM
003 (SEM)
1Graduate Standing
Tu 4:00PM - 7:00PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 9781408130063
The Island princess, Author: Fletcher, John, 1579 - 1625.
ISBN: 9780199535798
The complete sonnets and poems, Author: Shakespeare, William (1564-1616)., Publisher: Oxford University Press 2008
ISBN: 9781472520524
Edward 2., Author: Marlowe, Christopher., Publisher: Methuen Drama 2014
ISBN: 9780719088056
Galatea, Author: Lyly, John, 1554?-1606., Publisher: Manchester University Press 2012
ISBN: 9780801860997
The convent of pleasure and other plays, Author: Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of, 1624?-1674., Publisher: John Hopkins University Press 1999
ISBN: 9781472568977
The Dutch Courtesan
ISBN: 9780199535873
Othello, the Moor of Venice, Author: Shakespeare, William., Publisher: Oxford University Press 2008
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