A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World

Overview

When was the first chat line between men established? Who was the first "lesbian"? Were ancient Greek men who had sex with each other necessarily "gay," and what did Shakespeare think about crossdressing?

A Little Gay History answers these questions and more through close readings of art objects from the British Museum's far-ranging collection. Consulting ancient Egyptian papyri, the Roman Warren Cup's erotic figures, David Hockney's vivid prints, and dozens of other artifacts, ...

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Overview

When was the first chat line between men established? Who was the first "lesbian"? Were ancient Greek men who had sex with each other necessarily "gay," and what did Shakespeare think about crossdressing?

A Little Gay History answers these questions and more through close readings of art objects from the British Museum's far-ranging collection. Consulting ancient Egyptian papyri, the Roman Warren Cup's erotic figures, David Hockney's vivid prints, and dozens of other artifacts, R. B. Parkinson draws attention to a diverse range of same-sex experiences and situates them within specific historical and cultural contexts. The first of its kind, A Little Gay History builds a complex and creative portrait of love's many guises.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Through meticulous research and compassionate narration, British Museum curator Parkinson (Voices from Ancient Egypt) brings to light a collection of art objects from the British Museum’s collection that illustrate same-sex desire, many of which had previously been censored or concealed from historians. These 40 objects come from various civilizations and eras, some being clear-cut examples of same-sex love, such as Grecian urns decorated with homoerotic scenes, the poetry of Sappho, and the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s well-documented affair with the young Antinous. Other pieces are more ambiguous: artistic renderings that suggest love between Samurai warriors; an Ancient Egyptian tomb that may have been made for a same-sex couple; and Shakespearean sonnets that allude to “bisexual” relationships. The book also includes brief, captivating profiles of gay and lesbian artists, including the sculptors Hedwig Marquardt and Augusta Kaiser, and novelist Virginia Woolf. The long history of intolerance is interwoven through the artwork as well, and while facts surrounding the persecution and execution of “sodomites” are unsettling, the book is not overtly political. Parkinson successfully shows that same-sex love and desire are an integral part of human history: “On a long view, no one occupies the centre. It belongs to all of us.” 80 color photos. (Sept.)
The Sunday Times - Simon Russell Beale

Moving and fascinating.

The Times (London)

Illuminating... Parkinson's book reminds us there is nothing new about homosexuality.

The Bookseller

[The book] draws on 40 objects, ranging from ancient Egyptian papyri to images by modern artists, including David Hockney.

The Independent

[ A Little Gay History] scans the Museum's collections for objects that show the complexity of desire in world cultures. From Indian gods to Emperor Hadrian, it proves that, if you swear by ancient tradition in matters of love and sex, you'll end up in the queerest spots.

BBC News

[The book] explores artistic portrayals of what it means to be gay and the difficulties in finding records of same-sex desire.

Library Journal
★ 09/01/2013
This little gay history is a little terrific book. In just over 120 pages, it serves as an introduction to gay history through the ages. Parkinson (Voices from Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Middle Kingdom Writings) takes readers on a tour of LGBT-related objects found in the collections of the British Museum, where he is curator of ancient Egyptian culture. The scope of his selections is global and covers all epochs of civilization. The introduction, titled "A Great Unrecorded History" (a quotation from E.M. Forster), frames the issues and theories of LGBT history and is followed by the core of the book, a chronologically arranged set of "Glimpses of a History," each "glimpse" accompanied by a color plate of the object that Parkinson discusses in a page or two of text. These glimpses, ranging from a c.9000 BCE figure from Palestine to a "Drag Queen Deck" of Japanese playing cards from 1997, allow Parkinson to explore the subject of homosexual desire throughout history; he discusses artistic movements, ordinary material culture, facades of conventional life, warrior traditions, legal persecutions, and definitions of the sacred. VERDICT Though the audience may be the general interested reader, there are notes and references that will enable further research. Highly recommended.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231166638
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 9/3/2013
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 432,539
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

R. B. Parkinson, a curator of ancient Egyptian culture at the British Museum, is internationally recognized as a specialist in ancient Egyptian poetry. His other publications include Voices from Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Middle Kingdom Writings; The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems, 1940--1640 B.C.; and Poetry and Culture in Middle Kingdom Egypt: A Dark Side to Perfection.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroduction: 'A Great Unrecorded History'Glimpses of a HistoryEpilogue: (Re-)Writing HistoriesFurther ResourcesSuggested General ReadingSources for QuotationsImage Credits

Columbia University Press

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