Reflections from Kit Heyam

If you’re researching history, then the people you’re researching unquestionably will have had some relation to or experience of sex and gender. It’s vital that we learn and discuss how to historicise this aspect of human life effectively.

From an academic perspective, I’m fascinated by the existence of conceptualisations of sex and gender that differ so wholeheartedly from our own. From a political perspective, I think the leap of empathy required to understand and study those different mindsets has never been more important than it is today. From a personal perspective, queer existence can be isolating and a sense of connection to a community across time has been absolutely crucial throughout my life.

My background is in English studies, and so my perspective is a historicist one which stresses the importance of close reading. I believe it is crucial to work towards understanding past conceptualisations of sex and gender on their own terms, and to recognise their essential difference from our own. I also believe that we must pay close attention to the language used to describe sex and gender, the changing meanings of key terms, and the strategies writers use to encourage or obstruct particular interpretations.

My PhD research investigates the changing reputation of Edward II in England during the period 1305-1700. This reputation was formed by a mixture of chronicles, poems, plays and political pamphlets, all of which I find equally valuable: just because a source is fictional doesn’t mean it didn’t help to shape people’s attitudes.

In terms of Sexing the Past, I’m looking forward to being in a space dedicated to people researching the history of sex and gender: history conferences are often organised by period rather than theme, and it’s so important to have an alternative to that.

Kit is a PhD student in the School of English at the University of Leeds.