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MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Before `Sexuality': Bodies, Desires and Discourses, 1660-1900

Unit code ENGL60882
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault argues that what characterises the period from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century is not prudishness or any ‘uniform concern to hide sex’, but rather the development of a wide array of devices for thinking about, speaking about, and regulating sexual thoughts and behaviour. In this course, we explore some of that vast ‘proliferation of discourses’ about sex and sexuality, reading literary, medical, and historical works produced between 1660 and 1900, before the emergence of modern categories of sexuality within the new disciplines of sexology and psychology.  We will ask such questions as: how were sex, gender, and sexual identities represented over the course of this period?  What kinds of sex acts and sexual agents were of particular interest to seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth-century writers?  What tools or strategies—from pornography to anti-sodomite campaigns—were used for the regulation or enjoyment of sex?  Works to be studied will include novels, poems, plays, cartoons and engravings, as well as contemporary critical and theoretical work.



The unit aims to

                - introduce students to a range of theoretical and critical approaches to the history of sexuality and/or the history of the body

                - introduce students to a range of literary and non-literary texts produced between 1660 and 1900.

                - introduce students to key aspects of British culture in the long eighteenth century, with a particular focus on politics, theology, visual art, literature, and natural history (science).

                - develop students’ critical, analytical, literacy, and public speaking skills.


Teaching and learning methods


Knowledge and understanding

- Demonstrate familiarity with a range of critical and theoretical approaches to issues in the history of sexuality and the body

- Demonstrate knowledge of a range of literary and non-literary texts from the 17th through 19th centuries, as well as a sensitivity to different genres and styles of writing in the period

- Reflect on the complex relations among literature, politics, ethics, religion, science, and attitudes towards sexuality in the period

Intellectual skills

-  Develop critical analyses of both literary and non-literary texts, and of a range of critical and theoretical works

- Construct cogent arguments based on textual evidence, both in essays and in discussion

- Design an original research project addressing significant intellectual issues and debates

- Use relevant library resources, databases, and search engines to locate material for discussion and analysis

- Demonstrate high-level skills in written communication, analysis, and argument

Practical skills

- Develop oral communication skills through seminar participation

- Develop written communication skills appropriate to the assessment

- Develop independent research skills

- Develop analytical and critical thinking skills

- Use of online and library/archival resources to locate research materials

Transferable skills and personal qualities

- Demonstrate oral communication skills through participation in class discussions and symposium

- Demonstrate time management skills through balancing workloads and timely preparation of assignments

- Demonstrate ability to use ICT resources to do research

- Demonstrate written communication skills in critical essay

- Demonstrate self-motivation through ability to design and carry out independent research project

Assessment methods

Essay 100%
Participation Formative


Recommended reading


John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure [1749], ed. Peter Sabor (Oxford, 1985)

Bradford K. Mudge, ed., When Flesh Becomes Word: An Anthology of Early Eighteenth-Century Libertine Literature

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, Selected Poems, ed. David Vieth (Yale Nota Bene, 1962)

William Wycherley, The Country Wife (1675)

Matthew Lewis, The Monk (1796)

Laura Rosenthal, ed. Nightwalkers: Prostitute Narratives from the Eighteenth Century (Broadview, 2008)

Most other primary texts will be facsimiles accessed via the EEBO and ECCO databases



Paul-Gabriel Bouce, ed., Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century Britain, (1982)

Faramerz Dabhoiwala, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (2012)

Anthony Fletcher, Gender, Sex, and Subordination in England, 1500-1800 (1995)

Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality (1976)

Tim Hitchcock, ed.,  English Sexualities, 1700-1800, (1997)

Lynn Hunt, ed., The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800 (1993)

Susan Lanser, The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic, 1565-1830 (2014)

Ian McCormick, ed., Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Writing  (1997)

Laura Rosenthal, Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture (2006)

Valerie Traub, Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns (2016)

Randolph Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution (1998)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 133.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Hal Gladfelder Unit coordinator
Noelle Gallagher Unit coordinator
Clara Dawson Unit coordinator

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