Cover image for How to do the history of homosexuality
How to do the history of homosexuality
Halperin, David M., 1952-
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Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 208 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Introduction: In defense of historicism -- Forgetting Foucault -- First homosexuality? -- Historicizing the subject of desire -- How to do the history of male homosexuality -- Appendix: Questions of evidence
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Table of contents
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HQ76 .H28 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this long-awaited book, David M. Halperin revisits and refines the argument he put forward in his classic One Hundred Years of Homosexuality : that hetero- and homosexuality are not biologically constituted but are, instead, historically and culturally produced. How to Do the History of Homosexuality expands on this view, updates it, answers its critics, and makes greater allowance for continuities in the history of sexuality. Above all, Halperin offers a vigorous defense of the historicist approach to the construction of sexuality, an approach that sets a premium on the description of other societies in all their irreducible specificity and does not force them to fit our own conceptions of what sexuality is or ought to be.

Dealing both with male homosexuality and with lesbianism, this study imparts to the history of sexuality a renewed sense of adventure and daring. It recovers the radical design of Michel Foucault's epochal work, salvaging Foucault's insights from common misapprehensions and making them newly available to historians, so that they can once again provide a powerful impetus for innovation in the field. Far from having exhausted Foucault's revolutionary ideas, Halperin maintains that we have yet to come to terms with their startling implications. Exploring the broader significance of historicizing desire, Halperin questions the tendency among scholars to reduce the history of sexuality to a mere history of sexual classifications instead of a history of human subjectivity itself. Finally, in a theoretical tour de force , Halperin offers an altogether new strategy for approaching the history of homosexuality--one that can accommodate both ruptures and continuities, both identity and difference in sexual experiences across time and space.

Impassioned but judicious, controversial but deeply informed, How to Do the History of Homosexuality is a book rich in suggestive propositions as well as eye-opening details. It will prove to be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of sexuality.

Author Notes

David M. Halperin is the W. H. Auden Collegiate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. He is the author or coeditor of a number of books, and the cofounder and coeditor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies .

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Very few academics have so changed a discipline that they can claim to demonstrate how to get it right, but Halperin (W.H. Auden Collegiate Professor, English, Univ. of Michigan) is one such scholar. This new collection of revised, previously published essays is not a "how to" but a demonstration of practice. Halperin's One Hundred Years of Homosexuality was a landmark for its nuanced interpretation of ancient Greek homosexuality that went beyond social constructionist/essentialist dichotomies. Here he takes his theoretical explanations further by arguing, among other things, that there are "genealogies" of homosexuality that show continuities over time and space. These, he claims, are what need to be studied and explained, and he cites examples that cover a wide berth in European history and culture. The sections on this topic are the most accessible to a general readership. The last chapter and the appendix are both part of a larger debate on the viability of distinctions between types of homosexuality and whether there is any point to such a debate. The primary audience for this book will be academics, who will be amply rewarded by its insights. Recommended for academic libraries.-David S. Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Halperin (English, Univ. of Michigan) provides four essays in which he analyzes his own theoretical development over the past decade. The author has moved from a social constructionist viewpoint to a more nuanced historicist approach in his analysis of homosexuality. The four essays analyze the importance of Michel Foucault to theories of homosexuality, developments in the study of homosexuality in ancient Greece, the importance of placing desire in the history of homosexuality, and the methodological question of how to do the history of homosexuality in an academic world dominated by queer theory. Halperin also includes a very useful appendix on sources for the study of homosexuality. Particularly important is Halperin's admission of the problems with traditional social constructionist theory, especially the insistence that sexual identities did not exist before the 19th century. Halperin correctly argues that this notion, mistakenly attributed to Foucault, is overly simplistic. He further notes that theorists who study homosexuality must pay much closer attention to the diversity of homosexual experiences and the relationship of present notions of homosexuality to the past. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. P. Sigal California State University--Los Angeles

Table of Contents

Introduction: In Defense of Historicism
1 Forgetting Foucault
2 The First Homosexuality?
3 Historicizing the Subject of Desire
4 How to Do the History of Male Homosexuality
Appendix: Questions of Evidence