Eras Journal – Newman, S.: ‘Lesbian Historiography’
Abstract of Newman, S., “Lesbian Historiography, or A Talk about the ‘Sweaty Sheet Fantasies of Certain Modern Tribades’”.
This paper is a preliminary excursion into theorising lesbian historiography, by examining the interpretive context created by the role of the lesbian historian in the production of lesbian history, and her/my libidinal investments involved in the pursuit of traces of desire through archival collections. The question of how to read photographs, diaries, and letters and their often-coded representations of lesbian desire becomes a central issue in the realm of the history of sexuality. Where is the desire located? Is it in the text or in the interaction of the lesbian historian with the text? The practice of reading is a process that involves the scholar as an interpreter of textual material and, as such, is intimately implicated in the construction of meaning.
Crossing cultural and historical contexts, the paper examines photographs from an institutional archive located at Smith College, an elite women’s college in Massachusetts. The discussion revolves around two sets of photographs that show women students in what Smith President L. Clarke Seelye described as ‘male attire’, or in full black tie, complete with varying degrees of facial hair and cigarettes. Together they raise interesting questions about the nature of evidence and the politics of interpretation in the process of writing lesbian history.