Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 09/04/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Schwalm, Leslie A.

First Committee Member

Heineman, Elizabeth

Second Committee Member

Bennett, Jeffrey

Third Committee Member

Storrs, Landon

Fourth Committee Member

Baynton, Douglas


“Feeling Historical,” examines why history has played such a central role in the construction of queer identities by analyzing how same-sex desiring individuals, particularly elite white individuals, in the U.S. looked to history to construct and navigate their own sexual identities. My project begins in the late nineteenth-century U.S., when history took on new cultural significance in the United States. Americans, previously more preoccupied with the future than the past, became engrossed in finding truth in history and origins. Parallel to this preoccupation with the past was the emergence of modern notions of sexual identity and the rise of the new sexual science of “sexology.” For sexologists, same-sex desire was new, a product of modernity and degeneration in which the sexually deviant fell behind on the evolutionary ladder. “Feeling Historical” analyzes the cultural and racialized work of white queer individuals who pushed back against such pathologizing discourse, arguing that their sexual affinities were not something aberrant, connected to degenerate desires of the racial other. Instead, they positioned themselves as rooted in a complex whitewashed transnational and transhistorical past. Mobilizing the past to construct their present, these individuals often drew on orientalist histories of great ancient civilizations in which they believed same-sex desire was accepted and even celebrated. They did so to not only counter the homophobic violence they experienced in their own time but to also reclaim their privileged racial identities. Much cultural work went into the construction of such a queer history. Using an interdisciplinary framework linking history, memory studies, queer theory, performance studies, visual culture studies, and critical race studies, I examine how these individuals appropriated examples of same-sex desire in the history, literature, and art of Ancient Greece, Italy, and the Middle East with imperialist understandings of such cultures. I ask which histories they found useful, and how gender, race, class, and ethnicity informed their historical reclamations. Through acts of history writing, auto-biography, performance, sexual tourism, and the creation of queer archives, I argue that such same-sex desiring individuals used history to not only navigate their identities and carve out spaces in a hostile world where they could survive and even thrive, but also reclaim their racial privilege by fashioning a queer identity based on a past that positioned queerness as inherently white.


American history, Gender history, History, Queer history, Race history


xi, 209 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 196-209).


Copyright © 2019 Caroline Radesky

Available for download on Saturday, September 04, 2021

Included in

History Commons