Workshop on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cultures of sexual knowledge

In 2017 we were delighted to be joined by:

Dr Amber K. Regis (English, Sheffield) who gave us the paper “‘The editor has reason to believe…’: un/finishing the Memoirs of John Addington Symonds”. 

Amber spoke on her new critical edition of John Addington Symonds’ memoirs. 

Professor Joy Dixon (History, British Columbia) spoke to us on ‘”The Gift of Sex”: Sexology, Social Purity, and the Production of Normalcy”. 

Joy is the author of Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England

This workshop was organised in conjunction with the Sexual Knowledge unit.

Interdisciplinary Histories Conference, 13th & 14th February 2017

Interdisciplinary Histories Conference

The conference keynote speakers Dr Des Fitzgerald (Cardiff University) and Professor Felicity Callard (Durham University) spoke on “Power and Affect in Interdisciplinary Space”

The first Rethinking Sexology conference examined dynamics of interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration from a historical perspective. It asked what can be gained by exploring moments, sites and traditions of dialogue across disciplines, fields of knowledge and forms of expertise in the past.

Interdisciplinary Histories Conference

Chris Manias (History, KCL) spoke on Histories of Palaeontology: Researching and Communicating between Disciplines”

One particular area of interest of the conference was late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century sexual science: Western European sexual scientists, including those with medical training, articulated an inclusive vision for sexual science that involved diverse fields like anthropology, biology, history, literature, psychology, sociology and zoology.

Interdisciplinary Histories Conference

Robbie Duschinsky (Primary Care Unit, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge) gave a paper on “Reappraising Infant Disorganised Attachment and ‘Fear Without Solution’: A Conversation Between History, Sociology and Social Work”

The conference also aimed to move beyond sexual science to consider alternative perspectives on how boundaries between areas of knowledge and expertise have been constituted, crossed and contested across history and to understand shifting definitions of terms like ‘science’ or ‘discipline’. It offered an opportunity for dialogue between scholars situated within and across (or outside of) a variety of disciplines and fields.

Interdisciplinary Histories Conference

Sarah Bull (History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge) and Will Abberley (English, University of Sussex) shared a panel on “Nature and the Production of Knowledge”

Interdisciplinary Histories Conference

Andreas Sommer (History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge) spoke on “Sexology and the Occult: A Career in Taboos. The Case of Albert von Schrenck-Notzing”

At the conference, we considered questions about interdisciplinary working, including:

  • How has exchange across disciplines, fields and areas of knowledge changed and shifted across e.g. cultural, historical, linguistic and national borders? How does this relate to changing definitions and understandings of ‘science’?
  • What methodologies can we use to understand exchange and collaboration across disciplines and fields in the past and present?
  • What are the benefits and challenges of writing ‘disciplinary’ histories?
  • Can historical perspectives on exchange and dialogue in the past inform collaborative working practices today? How?
  • What can we learn about our own disciplinary mindsets and methodologies by studying their emergence and intersection with other disciplines and fields in the past

Interdisciplinary Histories Conference

Donna Drucker (Technische Universität Darmstadt) spoke on”Developing American Sexual Science in Early Twentieth-Century New York”

Download the full conference programme here. 

This was a Wellcome Trust-funded Conference, Hosted by the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter.

For more details please contact the organisers, Professor Kate Fisher and Dr Jana Funke.

Photos by TJ Zawadzki.

Global Perspective: Dialogues between West and East on History of Medicines

L0004700 Watercolour, Chinese doctor feeling the pulse of a patient. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images A doctor taking the pulse of a woman patient, seated at a table. Her wrist is supported on a small red bolster. The doctor touches the pulse only with his finger-tips, without looking at the woman. Watercolour by Zhou Pei Qun, ca. 1890. Watercolour 1890 By: Pei Qun ZhouPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Watercolour, Chinese doctor feeling the pulse of a patient, Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images


Organised by the International Center for Studies of Chinese Civilization, Fudan with the Rethinking Sexology project, University of Exeter.

Date: 2nd – 3rd September 2016.

Location: International Center for Studies of Chinese Civilization, Fudan.

For full address click here.


Wood and glass pillow book, China.

Wood and glass mirror box with erotic images, 19th century, Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

This workshop is divided in five main discussion topics:

     1, A Global Perspective: Rethinking of the medical history writing

     2, Disease and Health: Different Cognition between West and East

     3, Acupuncture in China ,America and Europe, the Past and Present.

     4, Use of the Same Drugs by Different Medical Traditions around the World

     5, Sexology, Gender and History of Medicine

Please see the Provisional Programme here.

For more details please contact the organizer Gao Xi, History Department, Fudan University: 

Seminar: Lisa Downing (University of Birmingham)

Lisa Downing. Image Lisa Downing

Lisa Downing, Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, visited Exeter in 2015 to speak on ‘How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways…. On Female Narcissism, a Problem in the Psy Sciences’. All welcome. Full abstract and speaker biography below.

Part of the Centre for Medical History seminar series at University of Exeter.



Throughout the history of the psy sciences, there has been very little theorisation of, or published clinical data on, female manifestations of excessive selfishness, self-regard, or self-absorption — i.e. those traits that are pathologised in medical discourse as “narcissism”. Accounts that do exist are often characterised by contradictions, paradoxes and traces of gender bias. In the foundational texts of psychoanalysis, for example, we have Freud’s formulation of the re-routing of “inappropriate” primary female auto-eroticism into a more “properly feminine” secondary narcissism via motherhood and the pride a woman takes in her children. In the American psychiatric tradition, it is notable that there is a lower incidence rate of female patients diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), characterised by grandiosity and an egoistic lack of empathy. Where instances of female NPD are discussed in the literature, it is usually in the context of the deleterious effects of female narcissism on the nurturing of children (echoing Freud’s preoccupation with adult women as mothers rather than as selves). Throughout examples that cross national, linguistic, and historical boundaries, psy discourses appear to refuse to recognise exaggerated manifestations of female self-regard. My contention in this paper is that the shortage of scholarly consideration of narcissism in women is a facet of a larger cultural phenomenon in which women’s relationship with the whole concept of self is imagined differently from that of men, and is problematised. The material in this paper is part of a book project I am undertaking which considers the cultural, political, philosophical, and psychological meanings of female selfishness in the modern period.

Lisa Downing – Biography 

Lisa is Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, UK. She is the author of numerous books, articles, and chapters on modern critical theory; sexuality and gender studies; and the history of psychiatry, criminology, and sexology. Authored books include: Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Legenda, 2003), The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault (Cambridge University Press, 2008), The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts (co-authored with Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan, University of Chicago Press, 2015). She is currently editing a volume entitled After Foucault for Cambridge University Press, and writing a monograph about female selfishness.