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Southern Cal professor Velasco to deliver Boswell lecture

Sherry Velasco, professor of Spanish and Gender Studies and chair of the department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Southern California, will deliver the 2012 John Boswell Memorial Lecture on Oct. 26 in Washington Hall, Room 201.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is entitled “How to Spot a Lesbian in Early Modern Spain.”

“Years ago I started to investigate how early modern society understood non-traditional desire as a way to explain the recurring scenes of same-sex attraction in best-selling literary works and popular plays during the 16th and 17th centuries,” Velasco said. “After two decades I decided it was time to publish what I had found in a book-length study.”

The lecture series is named for John Eastburn Boswell (1947-94), who graduated from William & Mary in 1969, received a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1975, and taught medieval history at Yale for 19 years. He was the author of four books, including the award-winning “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.”

The Medieval and Renaissance Studies program and the Lyon G. Tyler Department of History present the Boswell Memorial Lecture, which is co-sponsored by W&M’s Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) in honor of Boswell’s connection to the university, contributions to the study of history and love for undergraduate teaching. The lecture is also supported by the John Boswell Lecture Endowment.

Velasco is the author of “Lesbians in Early Modern Spain,” (2011), “Male Delivery: Reproduction, Effeminacy and Pregnant Men in Early Modern Spain” (2006), “The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, and Catalina de Erauso” (2000), and “Demons, Nausea, and Resistance in the Autobiography of Isabel de Jesus, 1611-1682” (1996).

Velasco says there is a distinct correlation between societal views of lesbians then and now.

“Despite the differing time period and context, early modern theories -- like many assumptions today -- tended to link female masculinity with lesbian desire,” Velasco said. “However, what I find most interesting for the 21st century is the fluid nature of early modern sex assignment, gender identity, and sexuality – notions that seem to be precursors to the changing face of lesbian and transgender identities today.”

Her research, Velasco said, enabled her to uncover the dichotomy between the spiritual community’s assumed need to minimize scandals created by romantic trysts and “an abundance of religious records related to regulating affection in the convent.”

Velasco received her Ph.D. in early modern Spanish literature and culture from UCLA in 1992. She is a specialist in early modern prose and theatre and early modern women’s narrative. Her interests include gender studies, queer theory and visual cultural studies.