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25 of My Favorite Books from the LHMP Blog (So Far)

Saturday, January 23, 2021 - 14:54

(Lightly adapted from the original twitter thread. My first draft included more detailed descriptions of the books, but I edited ruthlessly to make (most of) them fit into individual tweets.)

25 recommended texts from the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog. This is in response to a twitter request for suggested reading on pre-20th century queer history. My specific specialty is on sapphic/lesbian history, though some of these works are broader in coverage.

The list is limited in that it draws from texts I’ve blogged. Not a “best of all time” just “my favorites of the 320 publications I’ve read in the last 6 years.” The blog is rather Anglo- and Euro-centric. I’ve focused on books rather than individual journal articles.

There are 6 groups: texts that inspired me, medieval and pre-modern, specific eras in British history, primary source material (primarily British), books focusing outside of Britain/France, and studies of specific topics. Links are to my blog entries.

My Inspirations. These are the three publications that convinced me that studying the history of female same-sex love was possible and exciting. I encountered each of them pretty soon after they were published, so that’s 40 years of being a lesbian history fan-girl.

#1 Faderman, Lillian. 1981. Surpassing the Love of Men. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-688-00396-6 []

The relationship between female same-sex desire and “romantic friendship” in the 18-20th centuries in England and the USA.

#2 Donoghue, Emma. 1995. Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801. Harper Perennial, New York. ISBN 0-06-017261-4 []

A ground-breaking work. Donoghue exploded some of the myths about “lesbians are a modern invention.”

#3 Bennett, Judith M. 2000. "’Lesbian-Like' and the Social History of Lesbianism" in Journal of the History of Sexuality: 9:1-24. []

Bennett’s paper was mind-blowing for me in how to think about studying lesbians in history. (Link is to download.)

Medieval and Pre-modern Topics: The farther back you go in time, the more you need to re-think exactly what “same-sex desire” means, and how to study it. These books draw together themes and motifs that don’t neatly map to our modern concepts of homosexuality.

#4 Sautman, Francesca Canadé & Pamela Sheingorn (eds). 2001. Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages. Palgrave, New York. []

An excellent collection of topics. The book might have been designed just for me!

#5 Bullough, Vern L. & James A. Brundage. 1996. Handbook of Medieval Sexuality. Garland Publishing, New York. ISBN 0-8153-3662-4 []

Little lesbian content, but includes Murray’s “Twice marginal and twice invisible: Lesbians in the Middle Ages.”

#6 Mills, Robert. 2015. Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-16912-5 []

Primarily male topics, but includes an excellent consideration of the intersection of same-sex and transgender motifs.

#7 Giffney, Noreen, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt (eds). 2011. The Lesbian Premodern. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9 []

A very dense and theory-heavy collection but some of the papers made me think a lot of interesting thoughts.

Era-specific books with primarily British content: The Anglo-centric nature of the publications I blog comes from several sources – my own interests, the way books come to my attention, and perhaps even a greater interest in queer history among historians studying Britain.

#8 Jennings, Rebecca. 2007. A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women Since 1500. Greenwood World Publishing, Oxford. ISBN 978-1-84645-007-5 []

A truly excellent popular-oriented history of women’s same-sex relations in Britain.

#9 Lanser, Susan S. 2014. The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic, 1565-1830. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 978-0-226-18773-0 []

How the motif of lesbianism reflects and shapes social concerns. Dense but readable.

#10 Traub, Valerie. 2002. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-44885-9 []

Similar coverage as Lanser. Also dense and maybe slightly less readable for the non-academic.

#11 Wahl, Elizabeth Susan. 1999. Invisible Relations: Representations of Female Intimacy in the Age of Enlightenment. Stanford University Press, Stanford. ISBN 0-8047-3650-2 []

An enjoyable read on f/f eroticism in 17-18th c England and France.

#12 Beynon, John C. & Caroline Gonda eds. 2010. Lesbian Dames: Sapphism in the Long Eighteenth Century. Ashgate, Farnham. ISBN 978-0-7546-7335-4 []

A collection that leans strongly to literary analysis. Not as accessible to the non-specialist.

Primary sources with mostly British content: Sometimes looking at primary source material can feel dreary & depressing, since it so often involves persecution and hostility. But leavening that are personal letters, love poems, passionate philosophical arguments.

#13 Borris, Kenneth (ed). 2004. Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650. Routledge, New York. ISBN 978-1-138-87953-9 []

Not necessarily texts of 16th century England, but texts available to people then.

#14 Loughlin, Marie H. 2014. Same-Sex Desire in Early Modern England, 1550-1735: An Anthology of Literary Texts and Contexts. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-8208-5 []

Highly recommended. Just read it.

#15 Merrick, Jeffrey & Bryant T. Ragan, Jr. 2001. Homosexuality in Early Modern France: A Documentary Collection. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-510257-6 []

Skewed to male topics, but provides a counterpoint to the British sources.

#16 Norton, Rictor (ed.), Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 7 September 2014 []

Very convenient in being available on the web.

Breaking Outside the England/France Zone: Several of these books could as easily have gone into other categories, but I wanted to highlight some of the better works I’ve found that *don’t* focus on north-western Europe.

#17 Habib, Samar. 2007. Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations. Routledge, New York. ISBN 78-0-415-80603-9 []

#18 Habib, Samar. 2009. Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality: 850-1780 A.D. Teneo Press, Youngstown. ISBN 978-1-934844-11-3 []

Combine narrative history with extensive source texts (in translation). The sources cover a broad swath of the Islamicate world in the pre-modern era. Habib also includes a biting analysis of the problems of bringing Western attitudes to the study of Islamic cultures.

#19 Thadani, Giti. 1996. Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India. Cassell, London. ISBN 0-304-33452-9 []

A political analysis as much as a historic and literary one, tracing the “invisibility” of lesbianism in modern India.

#20 Velasco, Sherry. 2011. Lesbians in Early Modern Spain. Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville. ISBN 978-0-8265-1750-0 []

Includes some material from colonial Spanish America. Makes a nice change from “all England/France all the time.”

#21 Williams, Craig A. 2010. Roman Homosexuality. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-538874-9 []

The book that helped me finally grasp classical Roman attitudes toward homosexuality.

Special Topics: This group contains books that focus on some fairly narrow and specialized subject, but that do it in a fascinating way.

#22 History Project, The. 1998. Improper Bostonians. Beacon Press, Boston. ISBN 0-8070-7948-0 []

A companion volume to a museum exhibition on the queer history of Boston Mass. Lots of pictures of artifacts.

#23 Bennett, Betty T. 1991. Mary Diana Dods: A Gentleman and a Scholar. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. ISBN 0-8018-4984-5 []

If you would enjoy a really twisty and convoluted academic mystery, this is a lovely and engrossing read.

#24 Walen, Denise A. 2005. Constructions of Female Homoeroticism in Early Modern Drama. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-6875-3 []

The English stage worked out philosophies and anxieties about gender and sexuality as public culture.

#25 Donoghue, Emma. 2010. Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 978-0-307-27094-8 []

A history of female same-sex desire in (English-language) literature organized around six “plot types.”

So that’s it: my personal suggested reading list. Check out the links to my blog for more detailed opinions and summaries of the books. And tell your friends about the Lesbian Historic Motif Project!

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