My MA Project

Wow, my research has changed a lot in the last 6 months! I will be updating this website as I go, but am excited to be moving in the direction of Digital Humanities, queer curation, and public access scholarship.

Abstract

Lesbian visual culture in premodern times has generally been overlooked in traditional art historical scholarship. This creates “bad history” (Bennett), because it does not acknowledge that women’s same-sex relationships have always existed and leaves a void for contemporary lesbian-identifying women and femmes. Throughout history there is evidence of a steady, though fragmented, presence of women-loving-women, and, as Bennett reminds us, the term “lesbian” has been in use for over 1,000 years. My MA research documents the presence of lesbians in the history of cultural representation through case studies of premodern Italian images of Paradise, French courtly love traditions, and an English memorial brass. Specifically, it will set out precise cultural parameters for various types of lesbian possibilities between 1300-1700 CE in France, England, and Italy, and thus, in response to a history of silences, provide concrete examples of lesbian desire and identity in visual cultures of the past.

History is full of “emancipatory possibilities” (Bennett), and this is a project of recovery — it is about understanding how lesbian identities were conceptualized in the past. Scholarship on lesbian history is growing (Bennett, Watt, Kłosowska), but premodern histories are still scarce and a premodern lesbian-specific art history has yet to be undertaken. My approach of telling a visual history of the construction of premodern lesbian identity is an essential contribution to the fields of Art History and Gender Studies, and today’s lesbian and femme communities need this research.

Research Questions

  1. What were the spaces and categories of lesbian possibility in premodern England, France, and Italy? 
  2. What was the evidence for lesbian-like friendship and desire, as in my case-studies of an English memorial brass and Italian images of Paradise?
  3. How did readers understand lesbian-like desires in the context of European courtly love, specifically in the French tradition of Yde and Olive?
  4. How can these visual histories be made “usable” (Faderman) and accessible for contemporary lesbian-identifying women and femmes looking to construct a collective memory for their communities?