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Full citation: 

Aldrich, Robert & Garry Wotherspoon eds. 2001. Who's Who in Gay & Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. Routledge, London. ISBN 0-415-15982-2

Publication summary: 

An encyclopedia of “people significant in the history of homosexuality."

Contents summary: 

This book carefully identifies the listings as “people significant in the history of homosexuality” thereby neatly sidestepping the question of personal identification or behavior. It is clear from the choices, however, that the intent is to focus on persons known or believed to have had homoerotic inclinations, although persons significant in cultural debates around the topic (such as Saint Paul and SIgmund Freud) are also included. The geographic scope is restricted to the Western world with the recognition that the concept of homosexuality around which the work is organized is linked specifically to that cultural context. There is a brief apology for failing at gender parity with the excuse that the focus on “famous” people will follow the disparity in historic recognition between the sexes.

A brief survey of the entries under “A” will give a sense of the coverage: out of 31 entries, 7 are women and 24 men; 7 are from the classical era (all men), 10 from the 20th century, and the remaining 14 covering the entire remaining scope of history.

While the individual entries are informative and nuanced in discussing the historic context and evidence, and provide a brief selection of references for further reading, the immense temporal and cultural scope of the work means that only a relatively small number of people are covered. I see this book as something of a “showpiece”--a proof of existence and exercise in presentation. It might be useful as a introductory text in an entry-level queer history course. It seems less useful as a general reference work for investigating random historic individuals one might want additional information on. In general, if a figure is included in this work, a reader with only mild familiarity with the history of homosexuality will generally know about that person’s relevance already. Conversely, if a reader is trying to track down information on lesser-known figures, those figures probably won’t be included. (It would also be nice if there were a cross-index of all the possible forms of people’s names, given the problems of alphabetizing and standardizing the names of non-modern people.)

In sum: a text for browsing but not particularly useful as a reference work, though that last evaluation must be understood in the context of the massive improvements in research resources made possible by the internet. This would have been more valuable as a reference at the time it was published (and even more valuable if it had been published a decade earlier).

historical