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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Fall 2004

AMS 315 • Not-So-Straight History: Homosexuality in 20th Century America-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
27786 MWF
9:00 AM-10:00 AM
PAR 306

Course Description

So often when we hear the “straight history” of the United States, we end up with a version of events that conceals as much as it reveals. Sexuality is one realm of US history that often remains invisible, especially when we consider those Americans whose sexual experiences don’t fit into the main rubric of heterosexuality. This course will therefore seek to retrieve some of the histories of individuals and groups who don’t fit into the heterosexual norm, including those who identify as homosexual, bisexual, and/or transgendered. Particular emphasis will be placed on the history of gays and lesbians. Students in the course will gain a solid understanding of key events in the history of homosexuality throughout the 20th century. The course will begin with the “birth” of homosexuality in the 1890s and follow its history through to what some consider the impending “end” of homosexuality in the present day (replaced either by a “postgay” or a “queer” identity). Along the way, we will try to unravel and better understand a reality that most of US society now takes for granted: that the sex of one’s sexual partner reveals a deep-seated personal identity and grants one membership in a minority group. And yet, all throughout this course, it will become clear that a study of homosexuality and other non-normative sexualities is not at all a separate story from the “straight history” we have been taught through the years. In fact, a study of the not-so-straight will put normative history into clearer focus as well. Students will leave the class with a better appreciation of: • how the rise of gay and lesbian communities is tied to larger social changes that affect all of society, such as industrialization and the mobilization for World War II. • how the persecution or acceptance of homosexuality fits into larger discussions in American society about the role of religion, as well as the role of science. • how persecution of gays and lesbians in the McCarthy era exemplifies the larger loss of personal freedom and the curtailment of civil rights in Cold War America. • how gay liberation interacted with – and at times clashed with – the counterculture and the activist movements of the late 1950s and 1960s. • how the AIDS crisis helped to place homosexuals at the center of a larger “culture war” in the 1980s and 1990s. • how American notions of homosexuality have been exported around the world during the present age of globalization, and how the position of homosexuals has changed as a result, both in America and abroad. We will also look at whether it matters as much for today’s youth to identify as either gay or straight, and what that says about the current impact of mass media and marketing.


The texts used in the class will draw from a variety of sources and media styles, including books, journals, newspapers, Supreme Court decisions, and sexual surveys. We will also view a few films and have clips of television shows and print advertising as part of our classroom interaction.


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