The John Boswell Memorial Lectures

jebIn 1997 in cooperation with the Department of History at The College of William and Mary, William and Mary GALA established an annual lecture to explore the history of sexuality. This lecture was established to honor the memory and academic legacy of Dr. John E. Boswell, an alumnus of the College (Class of 1969), Harvard PhD, and Professor of History at Yale. The lecture is presented annually at The College of William and Mary.  Dr. Boswell was the author of several books dealing with the history of sexuality, and with “gay” history especially. He was a pioneer in these fields, breaking new ground in historiography. He died in 1994 and was an early member of William and Mary GALA. His books include: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, (New York: Villard, 1994), and The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989)

Details of these books as well as reviews may be found on the Internet via your favorite search engine. For a complete review of Dr. Boswell’s work go to the LGBT Religious Archives Network at and check their profiles gallery. The John Boswell Memorial Lecture has enabled the campus to hear from distinguished scholars who have been inspired by Boswell’s life and work. These lectures help to bring the hidden history of minority sexuality into focus at The College of William and Mary. Previous Boswell Lecture speakers have included:

1997 – David Niremburg of Rice University

1998 – Ruth Mazo Karras of Temple University, whose Boswell Lecture was entitled, “Separating the Men from the Goats: Masculinity, Civilization, and Identity Formation in the Medieval University.”

1999 – John D’Emilio of the University of Illinois, Chicago

2001 – Professor George Chauncey, Boswell presentation entitled, “Why ‘Come Out of the Closet?’ Authenticity, Post/ Modernity and the Shifting Boundaries of the Public and Private Self in the 1950’s and 60’s.” (This lecture was sponsored jointly by The College of William and Mary’s Department of History and William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae, Inc. with additional support from the American Studies Program and Women’s Studies Program at William and Mary.)

2003 – Elizabeth Archibald of the University of Bristol

2005 – Bruce Lanier Vernarde of the Department of History of the University of Pittsburgh

2006 – Susanne Hafner of the University of Texas, Austin, Boswell Lecture entitled, “From Phallus to Appendix: Reading the Corpus Priapeorum”  (This lecture was sponsored by William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae, Inc., The College of William and Mary’s Departments of History and Classical Studies, the Program in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the William and Mary Arts and Sciences Lecture Committee.)

The lecture hall was full for the 2009 Boswell Memorial Lecture.

2009 — Richard Godbeer of the University of Miami, “The Overflowing of Friendship: Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic.”

2010 — Mark Jordan, the R.R. Neibuhr Professor at Harvard UniversityDivinity School, delivered the 2010 John Boswell Memorial Lecture, “How Christians Began to Talk about Homosexuality.”

2011 — Susan Cahn, SUNYBuffalo, Professor of History delivered her presentation, “Reading, ‘Rithing, Rhythm, and Romance: Southern Girls and Sexual Politics.”

2012 — Sherry Velasco, Professor of Spanish, Portuguese, and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California: “How to Spot a Lesbian in Early Modern Spain.”

2013 — Kathryn Babayan, Associate Professor of Iranian History and Culture, University of Michigan: “The Unfolding of Self/Friend in Early Modern Isfahan.”

The annual John Boswell Memorial Lecture is open to everyone including William and Mary students, faculty, staff, and alumni/ae as well as members of the general public at no charge. Support for the lecture comes from both the academic department sponsoring the event and the William and Mary GALA General Fund.

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