Approaching sex through archaeology: celibacy and sex

Posted on May 8, 2010


By the last week of the third part of the course, students are finally ready to begin to address one of the major drawbacks of much of the archaeology of gender: the way it elides sexual practices and experiences.

By juxtaposing archaeological, art historical, and documentary history approaches to sex work and celibacy, we leave students with a set of new questions, about desire and subjectivity. It is perhaps not surprising that many of the student projects that follow deal explicitly with similar questions, and extend as well to such questions as the visibility of friendship, romantic love, or other emotional connections. Far from a simple search for women in the past, or a projection of two biological sexes back into deep time, the course leads to an appreciation of the way people experienced their own embodied sexuality during their lives in the past.

Joyce 2008: Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives Ch. 4

Articles discussed by individual student panels:

Arvey, Margaret 1988: Women of ill-Repute in the Florentine Codex. In The Role of Gender in Precolumbian Art and Architecture, edited by Virginia Miller, pp. 179-204. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Brown, P. 1990: Bodies and Minds: Sexuality and Renunciation in Early Christianity. In Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, edited by David Halperin, John J. Winkler, and Froma I. Zeitlin, pp. 479-493. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Evans, Susan Toby 1998: Sexual politics in the Aztec palace: Public, private, and profane. Res 33:166-183.

Gilchrist, R. 2000: Unsexing the body: the interior sexuality of medieval religious women, in Archaeologies of Sexuality, pp. 89-103.

Karras, R. M. and D. L. Boyd 2002: “‘Ut cum muliere’: A male transvestite prostitute in fourteenth-century London”. Pp. 90-104 in Sexualities in History, Kim Phillips and Barry Reay, eds. New York: Routledge

Pflugfelder, G. 1999: Cartographies of Desire: Male-male sexuality in Japanese discourse. Berkeley: University of California Press. Chapter 1.

Siefert, D., E. B. O’Brien, and J. Balicki. 2000: Mary Ann Hall’s first-class house: the archaeology of a capital brothel, in Archaeologies of Sexuality, pp. 117-128.