Violence and the History of Sexuality: Lessons from Eighteenth-Century Connecticut

violence and the history of sexuality lessons from eighteenth century connecticut

The seminar is being held in-person this term. To receive any pre-circulated readings, please join the ALRS mailing list by sending a blank email to:

For the third instalment of the ALRS, we’re delighted to be welcoming Professor Greta LaFleur, who will be presenting their paper ‘Violence and the History of Sexuality: Lessons from Eighteenth-Century Connecticut’, the abstract for which can be found below. This talk contains sensitive themes relevant to the title, including representations of sexual violence and torture.



This talk builds on landmark studies of rape in early America by historians Sharon Block, Jennifer Morgan, and Estelle Freedman, all of whom have offered careful analyses of what Block terms the “racialization of rape” in the rape law and slaves codes of the early American colonies. This talk examines a series of commutation petitions filed in the Superior Courts of Connecticut during the mid- to late- eighteenth century, all of which were penned by men (or their amanuenses) convicted of rape and sentenced to death. In each petition, the convicted man asks for a commutation of his sentence, offering to be castrated in exchange for not being put to death. These gut-wrenching petitions highlight one critical intersection between the history of sexuality and the history of sexual vulnerability: the legal use of castration as a punishment for crime and tactic of control. The talk examines the history of this highly particularized form of corporeal punishment, tracing its genesis from England to the North American colonies, emphasizing the less visible but nonetheless very prominent history of the sexual vulnerability of Black and Native men in the North American colonies. This talk further explores what methods might make it possible to better see this form of sexual vulnerability in the historical record, suggesting that by reconfiguring the scale through which historians tend to imagine the history of sexual violence-- reconceptualizing it as an interaction between the state and a body or population, rather than as an interaction between two individuals-- different features of these histories come into view.



The event will be taking place in the large seminar room on Thursday 10 November, followed by a wine reception.