Cleves, Rachel

Associate Professor


Phone number: (250) 721-7385
Department: History

Research description:

-Early American history
-History of gender, sexuality, and violence
Expertise Profile
Society in 18th and 19th-century America might have been more accepting of same-sex sexuality than we have generally assumed.

Historian Rachel Cleves dedicates much of her time to understanding the history of American sexuality between the Revolution and the Civil War. She wants to shed new light on how we perceive the history of same-sex marriage, and demonstrate that same-sex couples could find acceptance and tolerance in America's past.

"Opponents often depict the legalization of same sex marriage as a deviation from a traditional past, so it's really important for the information to be out there that, no, that's not an entirely accurate reading of American history," she says.

In her new book, Charity and Sylvia (Oxford University Press, 2014), Dr. Cleves explores the marriage of a same-sex couple in early 19th-century Vermont who were embraced by their neighbours. The book suggests that same sex-marriage was a possibility in early America.

Dr. Cleves' research extends beyond the American border. She is currently working on a queer history of the appreciation for food and sex among Anglophones in France and Italy during the 19th and 20th centuries, a project she calls "The Not So Innocents Abroad."

"I am studying how expatriates combined indulgence in transgressive sexualities with the enjoyment of good food, plentiful alcohol and narcotics. I am particularly interested in the construction of communities of pleasure that challenge conventional assumptions about the organization of communities around shared nationality or sexual identity."

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