For my research topic I will compare sexuality in the early modern era to the ideas that people have about sex in the 21st century. When I refer to sex in this proposal and the project as a whole, I will be referring to the sexual act rather than gender. Along with this comparison, I would also like to explore how the feelings and ideas that people have about sexuality have changed over the course of history. The change (or lack thereof) in customs and taboos fascinates me, and I would be interested to see if I can determine what caused certain cultural shifts including more permissive attitudes concerning homosexuality and sex for pleasure’s sake. I will not only be researching England’s progression from past to present, but also the changes in Spain, ancient Greece and Rome, and America.
As one of my exhibit sources, I intend to use Forbidden History: The State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe, which is an anthology of essays and journal articles edited by John C. Fout. It discusses modern Europe and will give me an idea of sexual norms at the present and in the recent past of that region. This will give me a basis for my comparison of history to modern day sexuality. I may also use one or more of the essays or journal articles as an argument or theory source as specific topics would be better suited to that purpose. My next exhibit source will be Desire: A history of European Sexuality by Anna Clark. This book discusses not just the early modern time period but also both earlier historical periods and more recent ones. It offers the necessary information for the comparison that I am attempting to make between history and present day. It also discusses homosexuality in history, which is something else that interests me in terms of my research topic. I will be using Premodern Sexualities, another anthology of essays and the like, edited by Louise Fradenburg and Carla Freccero, as an argument source. There are essays and articles that refer to various other works in their discussion of sexuality in history and make arguments about those works. I will be using Gender, Sex and the Shaping of Modern Europe as an exhibit source and as a fact source. The information about gender roles could be easily used in the fact format and would be very useful that way. However, it would also serve very nicely as an exhibit about the historical context in the more recent past. I will be using Handbook of Medieval Sexuality edited by Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage as a theory source, as it seems to offer a social theory of a time period that leads into that which I am studying. Although it is earlier, I believe it thus offers a historical perspective of the social theories that have developed thus far in society. I will use both Making Sex by Thomas Laqueur and Western Sexuality edited by Philippe Ariès and André Béjin (translated by Anthony Forster) as fact sources. I may use portions of Western Sexuality as exhibit sources given that they may prove useful for the comparison I will be making. Lastly, I will be using O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm by Jonathan Margolis as a theory source and perhaps an argument source. In particular sections, the author responds to and makes arguments about the Kamasutra, which has had a great deal of influence on the development of sexuality in many cultures throughout the ages.
There are some questions that I have going into this project. I hope to learn more about the development of sexuality from the early modern era until now. I also find myself wondering about the history of homosexuality. How did others respond to that idea? I know that early modern England did not understand homosexuality in that they did not believe there was more than one gender. I know that it was a matter of acting incorrectly because either a woman was too dominant or a man was too submissive. However, I wonder how attitudes changed once certain biological discoveries were made and what led society to where it stands today on homosexuality. Gender, Sex and the Shaping of Modern Europe should provide some information about this topic, as well as Desire: A History of European Sexuality. I have already stated that I am interested in how social norms concerning sex and sexual desires have changed. Perhaps Western Sexuality, Making Sex, and Forbidden History will give me some clues as to what caused the shift culturally from Christianity’s strong influence that said “Sex is evil, dirty, wrong and only for procreation,” to the more sexually free beliefs that exist in some countries today. It would also be interesting to see the rate at which different cultures progressed through that spectrum and in which direction. Some cultures have become more sexually liberal while others have either made no change or have moved towards a more sexually inhibited school of thought. I would like to see what these cultures have in common, what makes them different and what occurrences throughout history may have started a shift in either direction. To understand how a society is progressing, one must also be aware of how it is at the moment and where it is coming from. I would like to research the history of where sexuality has been to see if I can determine where it is going.