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Proving the Existence of the Past We Study

Friday, January 19, 2018 - 07:00

Another summing-up article that looks at the contents of the volume from a number of different angles. Although there is a great deal of repetition in this section of the collection, I like the focus on a deep understanding of the progression of theoretical frameworks that affected both what was studied and how it was interpreted.

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Full citation: 

Garber, Linda. 2011. “Necessity is the Invention of Lesbians” in The Lesbian Premodern ed. by Noreen Giffney, Michelle M. Sauer & Diane Watt. Palgrave, New York. ISBN 978-0-230-61676-9

Publication summary: 

 

A collection of papers addressing the question of what the place of premodern historical studies have in relation to the creation and critique of historical theories, and especially to the field of queer studies.

Garber, Linda. 2011. “Necessity is the Invention of Lesbians”

Garber reviews the progress of lesbian studies from an overly exuberant "laying claim", to the development of more nuanced criteria and engagement with Foucaultian social constructionism, as well as the overlap/intersection of lesbian and transgender themes in history. The 1970s were obsessed with how broadly or narrowly to define “lesbian,” both in the past and present. The nature of premodern evidence makes a strict social-constructionist approach problematic, even as the wide net premodern historians cast makes coherent boundaries impossible. Acknowledging a Foucaultian divide around 1869 doesn’t mean accepting that as the only definition for the scope of lesbian history. Like the other summing-up papers in this collection, Garber reviews the contents of the volume in the context of these contrasts. She reiterates the political nature of historical study and the place of fantasy and invention within that political context. Is there a direct comparison to the social history of, for example, ethnic minorities? Ethnic histories work to reconstruct the nature of a provable past, whereas lesbian history is often required to demonstrate the very existence of the past it wants to study.

historical