southern oral history program collection H u m a n i t i e s

southern oral history program collection H u m a n i t i e s

History: Sex in American History                                                                                        


PROMPT:  Reflect on the material we have examined over the last several weeks about the mid-twentieth century and the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and the turn to the sex wars that developed in the 1980s.  Focus on a theme, issue, or topic that strike you as particularly interesting, puzzling, or important.  Some examples include: marriage, dating, and courtship; sexuality and liberation movements; sex, censorship, and mass culture; reproduction, regulation, and reform?  Consider: What is it about this topic that you want to learn more about?  What scholarship have we read or other materials have we studied that would help you develop an historical perspective on this issue?  Make some notes.  

Now, EITHER choose TWO (or more) oral histories from the Southern Oral History Program collection OR conduct an oral history of your own with a person of your choice. If conducting an oral history interviews yourself you may do more than one–but at least one should speak to the period of the sexual revolution.   In either case, you should take some care in exploring your options to make sure that you end up with an interview that will end up illuminating the issues you’re interested in exploring.  NOTE: if you’re using an interview from the SOHP collections, it is often easier if you find two that offer a focused comparison and develop your essay around the similarities and differences in the experiences, perspectives, and assumptions of the two interview subjects.  

If you’re conducting your own interview, you’ll want to make a practical plan for scheduling the interview, make sure you have a means of recording it, and plan on spending about half an hour to an hour conducting the interview itself.  Before your start, clarify with your interviewee how you’re going to use the interview and how you’re going to safeguard that person’s privacy.  

           As you review and analyze your interview (or interviewees), consider the relevant scholarship and other sources we’ve examined that can help illuminate your analysis by providinghistorical context, or by offering models of analysis.  Once you’ve identified the central historical issue at the heart of your essay and a body of relevant sources, write an essay that uses the oral history/histories to a) illuminate an important issue in the history of modern sexuality and b) evaluate the efforts of historians to understand and explain it.  

The goal of this assignment is to give you an opportunity a) to critically analyze and evaluate engage specific sources of your own choosing and b) to develop your own analysis of a particular historical issue or problem.  

Your essay should do the following:

At the beginning of the essay, clearly identify the issue/problem that you will be analyzing. 

Explain the broader significance of this issue/problem/phenomenon with respect to the history of sex in American society from the colonial period through the recent past.  To address this question of broader historical significance consider how the issue/problem you identified has been defined and contested in particular periods. Are the individual’s views of sex, her/his life experiences, and so on consistent or incompatible with the sexual norms, regulations, identities, or ideologies of the time period she/is describing and previous periods?

  • If relevant in your case, focus on the Southern aspect of your interviewee’s experience.  How does this person’s view of the period differ from what you might expect from scholarship and other documents produced largely by people living in other parts of the country?
  • Consider the question: What does this person’s attitudes and experience tell us about the history of the so-called “Sexual Revolution” (in the South)?  To what extent was this person self-consciously political? Was this person’s approach conservative? reformist? radical?  What is most interesting or significant about this person’s unstated assumptions–or the relationships between this person’s unstated assumptions and this person’s articulated beliefs and decisions? 

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