Author Archives: Jen Grove

Sex, Sexuality & Classical Reception seminar + book launch!

Syndicate Room B, Building:One, University of Exeter Streatham Campus

This seminar brings together 3 early career researchers studying how the history of sex and sexuality intersects with the reception of the ancient world in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Papers will be followed by a wine reception to launch Sculpture, Sexuality and History: Encounters in Literature, Culture and the Arts from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), edited by Jana Funke and Jen Grove.


Mara Gold (Oxford): “Citizens of Lesbos: Sapphic Code and the Language of Lesbian Desire”

Georgina Barker (Edinburgh/Exeter):  ‘Pigeons and Parrots, Sappho and Cynthia: Elena Shvarts’ Recipe for Making the Modern Classical Woman’

Rebecca Mellor (York): “Measuring the Phallic: Statistical Analysis and the Visuality of Sex”

Papers from 3-5pm followed by drinks. All welcome! 

The event is organised in conjunction with Classical Reception Studies Network (CRSN), and University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History, Classical Receptions Network, Sexual Knowledge Unit and the Rethinking Sexology project.

“The World” and other unpublished works of Radclyffe Hall, edited with introduction by Jana Funke

9780719088285New short stories and novel by Radclyffe Hall uncovered 

Previously unpublished short stories and a novel by British author Radclyffe Hall have been discovered and transcribed by Dr Jana Funke. These materials, which give new insights into the lesbian writer’s views on sexuality, gender, class, race, spirituality and the First World War, have now been published in a new book edited and introduced by Funke.

Radclyffe Hall is widely remembered as the author of the 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, which was famously censored in Britain and has fundamentally shaped views of lesbian sexuality and identity. After Radclyffe Hall’s death in 1943, her unpublished works were left to her partner, Lady Una Troubridge, who was meant to destroy them. Instead, they were kept and discovered in a suitcase in Rome in the 1990s, when they were bought by the Harry Ransom Center in Texas.

These materials have not been analysed or published until now. As Funke discusses in her introduction, these texts offer entirely new perspectives on Radclyffe Hall’s work. They show that she tested out radically different ways of writing about lesbian sexuality and gender before publishing The Well of Loneliness. Although she was critical of the suffragettes, the materials also reveal that Radclyffe Hall thought carefully about feminist politics. The newly-discovered novel gives insights into her interest in the First World War and its influence on gender roles and sexual relations, especially for men. The short stories also demonstrate Radclyffe Hall’s interest in spirituality and religion, including topics like reincarnation and the survival of the soul after death.

“The World” and other unpublished works of Radclyffe Hall is published by Manchester University Press.

Public Engagement with this project: 


Mapping Sexual Knowledge workshop, Berkeley

On 4th and 5th May 2015, the Sexual Knowledge unit organised a two-day workshop at the University of Berkeley at California. The event was kindly hosted by the Centre for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society and funded by the University of Exeter’s HASS Strategy . Our aim was to bring together scholars from a range of disciplinary perspectives as well as practitioners working in the field of sexual therapy to create dialogue about the construction and authorisation of different forms of sexual knowledge (e.g. scientific, biomedical, pharmaceutical, political, literary, historical, spiritual).


Our participants included:

The first day of our workshop allowed us to identify shared areas of interest and articulate joint research questions. One important area of discussion that emerged concerned the difficulties involved in understanding how the concept of ‘sexual health’ has evolved and how it has come to be defined. Participants expressed their interest in how understandings of sexual health (and related attempts to classify sexual behaviour as healthy or pathological) have shifted across historical and cultural contexts. They also noted that sexual health has diverse and competing definitions today that go far beyond the biomedical sphere in which the concept is most often situated.

We also debated the role that sexual identity categories continue to play, for instance, in the formation of kink identities and communities today. Several participants reflected on the continuing relevance of and desire for origin stories that promise to answer the question of why one might experience certain forms of sexual desire. This was discussed as a potentially affirmative tool to construct personal identities, build communities and thereby effect social and political change. However, we also reflected critically on such aitiological approaches to sexuality, which can reinforce models of classifications and lock us into identity categories from which at least some of the participants were keen to distance themselves.


The fact that our group involved sex therapists who situate their work in the field of sexology raised some fascinating questions about shifting historical and cultural definitions of ‘sexology’ and ‘sexual science’ in the US and Europe. Academic researchers and and practitioners both made a strong case that sexology should be understood as an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand sexual identities, desires, behaviours and experiences from a range of different medical and non-medical perspectives. Yet, almost all of our participants also noted the difficulties involved in moving beyond a biomedical understanding of sexuality and making sure that research coming, for instance, from scholars in the Humanities or Social Sciences actually gets heard. The larger point here was that we need to find ways to identify and address power imbalances and antagonisms that make it difficult or impossible for us to speak to each other across disciplinary boundaries.

After an excursion to the GLBT Museum in San Francisco’s Castro District, where we enjoyed a wonderful guided tour, we gathered again on the second day to debate further the question of how we might be able to drive change in the real world and open up channels of communication. This took the form of a lively discussion about public engagement and impact initiatives. We drew inspiration from the work that the Sex & History project at Exeter has undertaken with young people, using erotic objects to open up new approaches to sex education. We also discussed other impact activities, such as Laura Mamo’s Beyond Bullying project. This led to a broader debate about the languages we use to talk about sex and how we might be able to develop alternative ways of speaking and talking about sex, especially across different hierarchical and disciplinary boundaries.


The final roundtable discussion drew out the main themes and points of interest that had emerged over the course of the past two days: the question of agency and who has the power and authority to produce and circulate sexual knowledge; problems surrounding communication about sexuality, for instance, in the clinical encounter, but also when it comes to speaking across different disciplines; the struggle for empowerment and the need to enable individuals and communities to develop affirmative perspectives on sexuality that do not reinforce new and potentially restrictive categories; and, finally, the urgent need to think critically about definitions and understandings of sexual health and wellbeing, a challenge that can only be met by trying to facilitate dialogue that works across disciplines and also involves collaborators beyond academia.

We are very grateful for the support of the CSTMS (particularly Massimo Mazzotti and Freya Knapp) and the University of Exeter.

Post by Jana Funke

Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past (eds. Fisher and Langlands)

Fisher_visualSex: how should we do it, when should we do it, and with whom? How should we talk about and represent sex, what social institutions should regulate it, and what are other people doing? Throughout history human beings have searched for answers to such questions by turning to the past, whether through archaeological studies of prehistoric sexual behaviour, by reading Casanova’s memoirs, or as modern visitors on the British Museum LGBT trail.

In this ground-breaking collection, leading scholars show that claims about the past have been crucial in articulating sexual morals, driving political, legal, and social change, shaping individual identities, and constructing and grounding knowledge about sex. With its interdisciplinary perspective and its focus on the construction of knowledge, the volume explores key methodological problems in the history of sexuality, and is also an inspiration and a provocation to scholars working in related fields – historians, classicists, Egyptologists, and scholars of the Renaissance and of LGBT and gender studies – inviting them to join a much-needed interdisciplinary conversation.

Book Contributors:

Alastair Blanshard, University of Queensland
Debbie Challis, University College London
Peter Cryle, University of Queensland
Kate Fisher, University of Exeter
Jana Funke, University of Exeter
Joanna De Groot, University of York
Lesley Hall, Wellcome Library
Rebecca Langlands, University of Exeter
Chris Manias, University of Manchester
Sebastian Matzner, University of Exeter
Alison Moore, University of Queensland
Karin Sellberg, University of Queensland
Chris Waters, Williams College

For more information see the OUP site.

Part of the Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History project at the University of Exeter.

Full citation:

Fisher, K and Langlands, R (2015) Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Reception of Rome in English Sexology (Funke and Langlands, 2015)


Rome is a significant site in the late nineteenth-century sexological construction of modern figurations of homosexuality, although so far it has been overlooked. Although sexological discussions of Rome are often less elaborate than those of Greece, Roman sexualities proved central to the sexologists’ interest in diverse types or subcategories of ‘homosexuality’ or ‘sexual inversion’, and Roman history and literature enabled sexologists to develop and reinforce distinctions between, for example, congenital homosexuality and cultured or degenerative sexualities. The chapter focuses on Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds, and their dialogue with continental sexology, exploring the representation of Greek and Roman sexualities, and analysing the conflicted ways in which Rome is integrated into the narrative of an affirmative history of male homosexuality that begins to emerge in sexological writings of the period.

Full Citation:

Funke, J and Langlands R (2015) ‘The Reception of Rome in English Sexology’, in Ingleheart J (eds) Ancient Rome and the construction of modern homosexual identities109-125.


Trans* History Meets the History of Sexology: Interrogating the Past, Engaging Communities

Our co-director, Dr Jana Funke, and Engaged Research Fellow, Dr Jen Grove, will be speaking at the conference Moving Trans* History Forward 2016 – Building Communities* Sharing Connections, University of Victoria, Canada, 17-20th March 2016. They will be talking on ‘Trans* History Meets the History of Sexology: Interrogating the Past, Engaging Communities’.


Sexology, the scientific study of sexuality, emerged in the nineteenth century and powerfully shaped modern trans* histories. Sexology is mainly remembered for its ‘medicalisation’ of trans* bodies, but early sexologists also studied gender diversity from broader historical, anthropological and literary perspectives. Drawing on our research on this cross-disciplinary dimension of sexology, our presentation asks how we can engage trans* communities to explore the overlapping histories of trans* and sexology. We examine recent exhibitions that have dealt with this relationship and reflect on our own engaged research, e.g. as part of Transvengers, a project that empowered young trans* adults to interrogate different historical sexological understandings of trans*. We will ask what can be gained by turning to the history of sexology and conclude by calling for innovative cross-disciplinary and collaborative methods that allow us to explore the past to think through gender and sexuality today.

Navigating the Past: Sexuality, Race, and the Uses of the Primitive in Magnus Hirschfeld’s The World Journey of a Sexologist (Funke, 2015)


This chapter explores the as-yet little understood place of anthropological research into cross-cultural sexual behaviours and customs within the broader field of early twentieth-century sexual science. She offers a close reading of German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld’s travel narrative The World Journey of a Sexologist (1933) and focuses, in particular, on his engagement with allegedly ‘primitive’ phallic cults in Asia. In so doing, the chapter interrogates how temporal hierarchies between the primitive and the civilized shaped modern understandings of sexuality, which emerged in dialogue with colonial constructions of racial and cultural difference. It also draws on Hirschfeld’s travel writings to demonstrate that the primitive past could be used in contradictory ways that both challenged and reinforced racial and cultural hierarchies and to different ends: to open up an understanding of sexual diversity and variation across the world and to legitimize the Western project of sexual science.

Full citation:

Funke, J (2015) ‘Navigating the Past: Sexuality, Race, and the Uses of the Primitive in Magnus Hirschfeld’s The World Journey of a Sexologist‘ in Fisher, K and Langlands, R Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past, Oxford University Press, 111-134.

Sexual Knowledge LGBT History Month 2016 events!

The Sexual Knowledge unit team and projects are organising and involved with a number of events for LGBT History Month in February 2016:

Thursday 4th: Gender Identities in the Past and Present: Hatshepsut & Akhenaten event at Petrie Museum.

Saturday 6th: Beyond The Well of Loneliness: Radclyffe Hall in the Archive at the V&A.

Saturday 20th: Beyond The Well of Loneliness: Radclyffe Hall in the Archive at M Shed, Bristol.

Monday 29th: Screen Talk: The Danish Girl at The Picture House.

See more events on our calendar.