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Committee Calls for Historian of LGBT History at Harvard

By Yen H. Pham, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: May 17, 2013, at 8:03 a.m.

In light of the controversy surrounding history professor Niall Ferguson’s recent comments about economist John Maynard Keynes’s sexuality, the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History—an affiliate of the American Historical Association—has called on Harvard to hire a tenure-track scholar devoted to the study of BGLTQ history.

Ferguson drew criticism after suggesting at a May 3 investors’ conference that Keynes’s economic theory derived from the fact that he was gay and childless. In a subsequent blog post, an open letter to the Harvard community, and an appearance at the Harvard College Women’s Center, Ferguson sought to apologize for and clarify his remarks.

In the Committee on LGBT History’s statement Monday, Don Romesburg, committee co-chair and associate professor at Sonoma State University, said that “the incident underscores the value of teaching and researching LGBT histories” and that it is “high time that Harvard makes a new tenure-track hire.”

Although the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has a visiting professorship in BGLTQ studies, there is no tenure-track position in history devoted specifically to the field.

The Committee’s call is not the first time attention has been drawn to the state of BGLTQ scholarship at Harvard. Last summer Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Timothy P. McCarthy ’93 raised concerns about a “queer exodus” from Harvard as seven prominent faculty members, administrators, and staff who identify as gay or lesbian left the University.

On Thursday, History Department chair David R. Armitage wrote in an email to The Crimson that prior to the recent controversy surrounding Ferguson’s comments, the department had made a request in conjunction with the Committee on Women, Gender, and Sexuality for a post dedicated to the study of the modern history of gender and sexuality. He said that the status of the request would become known later this year. Armitage added that the History Department was open to considering a specific hire in BGLTQ scholarship, but declined to make any guarantees.

According to Jennifer Brier, the other co-chair of the Committee on LGBT History and an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, BGLTQ studies and gender and sexuality are “deeply related but not identical fields.”

At Harvard, Brier said, “The department does not have anyone tenured in the field, and it makes a difference.”

Brier affirmed the importance of the work that temporary faculty do to teach and engage with undergraduates, but suggested that more attention should be given to the discipline.

“People who are tenure-line faculty have a different kind of power to affect change in the institution,” Brier said.

At the same time, Brier emphasized that the creation of such a position should not “[absolve] the institution [as a whole] of thinking of the needs of LGBT people.”

Harvard Queer Students and Allies co-chair Ivel Posada ’14 affirmed this sentiment, saying that he believes the incident surrounding Ferguson’s comments could be an opportunity for the entire department to consider how it could “incorporate biographical information on sexuality in an appropriate way.”

“LGBT history is a part of history, period,” Posada said.

—Staff writer Yen H. Pham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @yhpham.

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