Dissertations in Progress

History of Sexuality Dissertations in Progress

Rebecca Adelsheim

“Unfinished: Queer Identity in Process on the American Stage, 1972-2022”

My dissertation considers the aesthetic and structural intervention queer artists make that produces feelings of fracturing, fading, and fizzling, what I am calling the queer unfinished. Beginning in the 1970s, a period of calcification of vocabulary for queerness and simultaneous expansion of representation, this project considers how queer identity onstage is constantly in a process of “becoming” alongside evolutions in LGBTQ politics and thought.  Building on ideas of queer time and failure, I examine how cultural texts—ranging from domestic drama to dance theater to ambitious historical reimaginings—are tied to an unfinished queer history and archival silence. The queer unfinished allows artists to occupy this space in the archive and facilitates a movement between, or awareness of, previously fractured identities in queer public cultures. I argue that this aesthetic intervention holds a future-focused impulse that allows previously overlooked theatrical work to offer a new perspective on the ongoing survival and invention of and by queer artists.

Salonee Bhaman, History

“The Borders of Care: Social Welfare, Care Work, and Intimacy in the Era of AIDS”

My dissertation interrogates the first decades of the AIDS epidemic as a public health crisis defined by the politics of austerity and the reorganization of the American welfare state. I draw on the grassroots health politics of groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, municipal responses to HIV/AIDS in public hospitals and homeless shelters, and the incomplete incorporation of IV drug users and women of color into the HIV/AIDS nonprofit complex, to demonstrate the ways that the first decades of the crisis were marked by contradictory political and social impulses. I argue that these impulses collectively produced social welfare policies and programs that reflected anxieties not only over contagion and cost, but also over sexuality, intimacy, and non-normative domesticity.

Kelsey Henry, American Studies

Developmental Humanisms: Black Histories of Developmental Science and Biomedicine in the Twentieth Century U.S.

My dissertation follows the underexplored legacies of nineteenth-century scientific metrics of human development and racial difference, metrics forged in the crucible of racial slavery, in histories of twentieth-century developmentalism. I study what is retained and reconfigured of nineteenth-century racial developmentalism, namely a tendency to equate blackness with an “overdeveloped” sexual body and an “underdeveloped” mind, in twentieth century pediatric medicine, endocrinology, and neurobiology. While developmental metrics, including pediatric growth charts and diagnostic criteria for developmental disability, are often perceived as race-neutral, this dissertation argues that developmental standards and technologies for managing child and adolescent growth were tailored to white bodies, minds, and sexualities from their inception. I intervene in critical black studies scholarship on the afterlives of slavery by foregrounding scientific metrics of human development as a cultural field through which the racial parameters of the human have been repeatedly renegotiated, and how this comes to bear on the measurement and management of black life in the twentieth century.

Kate Redburn, History

The Private Square: Gay Rights, Religious Freedom, and U.S. Political Economy at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

My dissertation examines the changing meaning of sexual and religious freedom in the marketplace since the mid-1960s. I show how conflicts between LGBT legal advocates and conservative Christian lawyers have changed the way law structures the relationships between state, market, and subject, by looking closely at the history of public accommodations law. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, U.S. legal consensus held that private businesses serving the general public were subject to anti-discrimination laws, even when the proprietors objected to racial equality on religious grounds. By 2017, that consensus had largely deteriorated, and cases before the Supreme Court in 2020 suggest that a religious exemption to anti-discrimination law may become constitutional nationwide. How should we understand this dramatic change? I argue that the conservative vision succeeded in devolving public powers of inclusion and recognition to private parties, recalibrating public law to protect religious and business interests, and sometimes limiting the reach of public law altogether. I suggest that these changes form an important part of the transition from a New Deal political economy into a lopsided neoliberalism, where some subjects are rewarded and others penalized for non-normativity in their quest for full economic citizenship.

Rachel Rosenberg, History

Fitness to Guide the Youth: Policing the Gender, Race, and Sexuality of American Public Schools Teachers in the 20th Century

My dissertation explores the ways that educational policy leaders worked to maintain a gendered, racialized, and heteronormative status quo through the policing of American public school teachers in the twentieth century.  Contextualizing clashes over classroom teachers in broader national debates over gender, race, sexuality, and children, I argue that the identity of the public school teacher has long been policed through interconnected ideas of what was best for children and who the nation’s children should become.  As policy makers, school officials, parents and others addressed adult-child and student-teacher relationships, they worked to create a teaching force comprised of teachers with the characteristics they wanted students to emulate, hoping to limit expressions of gender and sexuality and constrain interracial relationships.  Understanding this history deepens our insight into the ways that the policing of gender, race, and sexuality are deeply intertwined, as well as helping us to create a more equitable future that embraces the true range of identities of our students and teachers.          

Chloe Sariego, History

My dissertation examines the locations at which instruments of state power, such as the law and public policy, manage (formally and informally) normative reproductive forms (marriage, custody, reproductive health) in the face of the formal incorporation of transgender and cisgender in the United States. Using a data set of court cases and legal documents as well as archival materials from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Families Project at Yale and the GLBT Historical Society, this dissertation seeks to puzzle the incoherence of the U.S. state apparatus and the treatment of transgender people and their reproductive lives.  In sum, this dissertation engages with the overlap between the maintenance of reproductive normativity in official state contexts and the formal subsumption of transgender and cisgender as categories of state recognition.


Hannah Srajer, History

“The Clockwork Cure: Behavior Modification and Rehabilitative Logics in the American Carceral State, 1950-1990”

My dissertation explores the allegedly rehabilitative behavior modification programs implemented in federal and state prisons from the late 1960s to the 1990s. Key to the agenda of those programs was the project of gender and sexual normativity and the construction of the ideal worker of racial capitalism. The proliferation of behavior modification programs functioned to police gender, heterosexual, and racial norms, linking “violent,” “deviant,” and “criminal” behavior to homosexuality and gender queerness. My dissertation’s analysis of such programs shows how racial, sexual, and gender norms are co-constituted through modern penal technologies. More broadly, I illustrate how prison’s investment in behavior modification—scientifically and medically-informed, expert-led “rehabilitative” programs—expanded and enriched punitive carceral institutions and carceral violence in the United States.