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American Studies Seminar - 2010

History of Sexuality in early America

For over thirty years, AAS has sponsored an honors seminar in American Studies for a select group of undergraduates from the five four-year colleges and universities in Worcester: Assumption College, Clark University, the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Worcester State College. The seminar provides the students with the rare opportunity to do primary research in a world-class archive under the guidance of a scholar trained in the interdisciplinary study of the American past.

The 2010 seminar focused on the history of sexuality in early America. The seminar was led by Sarah Anne Carter, a cultural historian (and former AAS fellow) who received her Ph.D. in American Civilization from Harvard University.

In this honors seminar for undergraduates, students were introduced to the interdisciplinary study of sexuality in early America through primary source research in the unparalleled archival holdings of the American Antiquarian Society. Over the course of the semester students moved from the study of prescriptions for appropriate sexual behavior to descriptions of many different forms of sexual experience. While it is often tempting to think of the past as a time when sexuality was either more .traditional. or more .repressed.. depending on one.s standpoint.scholars of early American culture and society instead find evidence of extreme sexual diversity. From the colonial to the antebellum periods, many different voices spoke loudly about the power, pleasure, science, and spirituality of sex. Readings and discussions introduced students to major themes in early American sexuality studies. These readings prepared students to consider possible research topics in light of trends in the extant scholarship. Additionally, students read monographs that modeled how scholars use various documents to understand sexualities in the past. This literature helped students situate visual, literary, and documentary representations of sex in the context of large-scale historical forces such as colonization, slavery, war, reform movements, nation-building, and the rise of scientific thought.

The final portion of the course focused on students' original research projects, for which the students conducted original research in the AAS collections. During the final two sessions, the students made capstone presentations in which they described their research process and reported their findings.

Final Projects

Additional 
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The seminar was led by Sarah Anne Carter, a cultural historian (and former AAS fellow) who received her Ph.D. in American Civilization from Harvard University.