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Renowned historian Dr. George Chauncey to speak at Gender Symposium

Posted: March 24, 2008

He will be giving a talk entitled, "The Strange Career of the Closet: The Culture and Politics of Homosexuality from the Second World War to the Gay Liberation Era," at 3 p.m. in the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) Auditorium. Dr. Chauncey, a pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian history, is best known for his 1994 groundbreaking book, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (Basic), which won the Organization of American Historians' Merle Curti Prize for the best book in social history and Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for the best first book in history, as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Lambda Literary Award.

The book looks at the complex world of gay men in New York in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Not only does Dr. Chauncey locate a strong gay community and culture prior to the Stonewall riot in the 1960s but he also shows that the societal definitions of heterosexual and homosexual behavior during the pre-WWII era were very different than they are later in the twentieth century. In doing so, he questions the very idea of sexual practices or definitions of sexual orientations as static and historicizes an aspect of our culture that we take for granted as rigid and fixed. The work is amazing social history, but it also tackles the fields of urban, gender, and class history.

More recently he published Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate over Gay Equality (Basic, 2004). He is also finishing a book that carries the same title as his talk. According to Dr. Chauncey's website, The Strange Career of the Closet, "reconstructs the racially-segregated and class-stratified African American, Latino, and white gay male worlds and sexual cultures of postwar New York City, analyzes the generational shift from the culture of the double life to the culture of coming out, and reinterprets the sources of postwar antihomosexualism, the development of gay politics, and the transformation of urban liberalism."

Outside of the academic realm, Dr. Chauncey has been involved in several major court cases and public debates bearing on the rights of lesbians and gay men. He testified as an expert witness on the history of antigay discrimination at the Amendment 2 trial in Colorado, which resulted in the Supreme Court's historic decision in Romer v. Evans (1994) that gay people could not be excluded from the political process, and he was the organizer and lead author of the Historians' Amicus Brief in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which weighed heavily in the Supreme Court's landmark decision overturning the nation's remaining sodomy laws.

He has also authored or joined amicus briefs and affidavits on the history of marriage or antigay discrimination submitted in several state court cases in which same-sex couples have sought the right to marry. He has also served as the historical consultant to numerous public history projects, including major exhibitions, public lecture series, and documentary films. He is the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

Dr. Chauncey is professor of history at Yale University. He taught at the University of Chicago for fifteen years, and has held positions at Rutgers, New York University, and the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.

The Symposium is a graduate student-oriented and grad student-run organization. It provides one of the few formal environments on campus for grad students to gather, together with faculty, to discuss their work.

The Symposium receives its primary funding from the History Department and the Office of the Dean of Liberal Arts. Additional funding for special programs comes from other programs and departments at UT. The Symposium brings together a community of individuals to discuss integrating the study of women, gender, and sexuality in their work. It provides a forum for an interdisciplinary group of graduate students and faculty to present papers and works-in-progress for peer review. In many cases, gender is just one of many topics that presenters feature in their work, not necessarily the primary focus; the goal is to be inclusive of many different methods and styles of research.

- By Jessica Luther

Prof. George Chauncey's web page
Gender Symposium info flyer (PDF, 591 Kb)

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