Julie Abraham

BA (Hons.), University of Adelaide, Australia. MA, MPhil, PhD, Columbia University. Special interest in lesbian/gay/queer studies, 20th-century British and American literature, contemporary feminisms, and literatures of the city; author of Are Girls Necessary?: Lesbian Writing and Modern Histories, Metropolitan Lovers: The Homosexuality of Cities, and numerous essays; editor of Diana: A Strange Autobiography; contributor to The Nation and The Women’s Review of Books. SLC, 2000–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

First-Year Studies: The Invention of Homosexuality


Different historians trace the invention of homosexuality to different historical moments from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries. The invention of heterosexuality, it would seem, followed after. Certainly the term “heterosexual” appeared only after the term “homosexual” was coined in the later 19th century. Neither meant, at first, what they mean today. In this class, we will study the development of modern understandings of same-sex desire in relation to understandings of sex, gender, race, class, nation, nature, culture, and opposite-sex desire. We will be drawing centrally on literary works, especially novels, which have been crucial sites for the construction and dissemination of modern conceptions of sexuality. But we will also be reading histories, science, laws, letters, and polemics, and watching films. Although we will be considering some earlier materials, we will focus on two periods: first, from the 1880s to the 1960s; then, the 1960s to the present. By the 1880s, almost everyone agrees, a recognizably modern understanding of homosexuality was becoming available. The sexual/cultural landscapes that subsequently developed were not radically rearranged until the 1960s, when the gay and women’s liberation movements insisted on a political analysis of sexuality. Over the past 50 years, that political analysis and the activism it has fostered have had profound consequences for LGBT lives and cultural presences, even as earlier understandings still persist. This course will serve as an introduction to a broad range of modern literature; to fundamental works in the history of sexuality and contemporary queer studies; and to critical thinking about how we talk, read, and write about sex. Though class materials will be generally focused on Europe and North America from the 1880s to the present, conference work may deal with histories, politics, or cultural works from this context; conference projects may also be focused on other times and places. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.


Queer Theory: A History

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Queer theory emerged in the United States, in tandem with Queer Nation, at the beginning of the 1990s as the intellectual framework for a new round in ongoing contests over understandings of sexuality and gender in Western culture. “Queer” was presented as a radical break with homosexual, as well as heterosexual, pasts. Queer theorists and activists hoped to reconstruct lesbian and gay politics, intellectual life, and culture; renegotiate differences of gender, race, and class among lesbians and gay men; and establish new ways of thinking about sexuality, new understandings of sexual dissidence, and new relations among sexual dissidents. Nevertheless, queer theory had complex sources in the intellectual and political work that had gone before. And it has had, predictably, unpredictable effects on subsequent intellectual and political projects. This class will make the history of queer theory the basis for an intensive study of contemporary intellectual and political work on sexuality and gender. We will also be addressing the fundamental questions raised by the career of queer theory about the relations between political movements and intellectual movements, the politics of intellectual life, and the politics of the academy—in the United States, in particular—over the past half-century.


Virginia Woolf in the 20th Century

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

“On or about December 1910,” Virginia Woolf observed, “human character changed....All human relations shifted—those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change, there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” In her novels, essays, reviews, biographies, and polemics, as well as in her diaries, letters, and memoirs, Woolf charted and fostered the cultural and political forces behind those changes as they developed across the century. Over the course of that century, Woolf’s image also changed from that of the “invalid lady of Bloomsbury,” a modern, a madwoman, and perhaps a genius to that of a monster, a feminist, a socialist, a lesbian, and an icon. While focusing on the development of her writing, we will also consider her life and its interpretation, her politics and their implications, and the use of her art and image by others as points of reference for new work of their own. Her family, friends, lovers, and critics will all appear. We will also be reading her precursors, her peers, and those who—in fiction, theatre, and film—took up her work and image in the decades after her death. This course will serve as an introduction to 20th-century fiction, feminist literary study, lesbian/gay/queer studies, the study of sexuality, and the study of politics in literature. Conference projects might focus on one other writer, a range of other writers, one of these approaches to literary analysis, or another aspect of feminist or lesbian/gay/queer studies.