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Name: Jacob Fredrickson

PhD: History

Thesis Title: Crimes of Passion & The Making of Modern Heterosexuality in Early Twentieth Century Britain

Thesis Description:

My project uses the cultural spectacles of high profile Crimes of Passion, to explore how “heterosexuality” was axiomatically coupled with normality in 20th century Britain. As intersections between law, mass media, and everyday life, these flashpoints reveal the historic specificity of ideas concerning sexual normality. In doing so, this project provides a historical genealogy of a category often treated as timeless and unproblematic — heterosexuality —. 

Aided by the conventions of modern popular journalism, sensational trials became cautionary tales about the consequences of transgressive sexualities. Such stories, however, captured intense public interest because their central motifs - love, passion, desire - were recognisable, everyday emotions. The deeply-felt letters and diary entries penned by self-titled 'ordinary members of the public'  reacting to these trials reveal how trials resonated with people because they seemingly held a mirror to everyday passions.

Exploring the relationship between the law court, cultural spectacle and everyday life, this project proposes a new methodology to critically interrogate heterosexuality. Intervening in historiographies of emotion, selfhood and everyday life, it rethinks the relationship between sexual subjectivities and mass culture. 

I build on recent interventions in queer critical history (Doan), in an attempt to disrupt heterosexuality's claim as a self-evident transhistorical category, and use these trials to tease out the diffuse processes through which heterosexuality became recognisable as normal. Challenging the traditional focus on discourses and categories of sexual identity and shifting attention to structures of selfhood and feeling, I follow a new approach to unlock the historically specific ways in which desire, passion and pleasure were lived and understood. In so doing it also makes original contributions to trends in histories of emotion, subjectivities and everyday life. 

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Professor Matt Houlbrook, University of Birmingham

Dr Chris Moores, University of Birmingham


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Postgraduate Research Scholar, Centre for Modern British Studies

year: 2017

  • Assisted with the planning and execution of the Modern British Centre's biennial conference, 'British Studies in a Broken World'
  • Undertook research and provided administrative support for 'Activist Selly Oak', a lottery funded outreach project exploring the history of community activism in Birmingham. 

Other Research Interests:

I am interested in the history of Modern Britain in its broadest sense, with a particular interest in the history of sexuality and selfhood. I am particularly interested in how this intersects with the history of emotion, the senses and everyday life. 



University email address:

Twitter: @JacobTfred


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