Gregory Sprague Prize

Gregory Sprague

Gregory Sprague

The Gregory Sprague Prize recognizes an outstanding published or unpublished paper, article, book chapter, or dissertation chapter on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, and/or queer history completed in English by a graduate student in 2022 or 2023.

Submissions should be sent as one PDF file via email by 11:59pm (Pacific time), 15 October 2023 to all members of the prize committee. Questions can be addressed to prize committee chair, Rachel Corbman.

Prize Committee:

  • Rachel Corbman, University of Toronto, (Chair)
  • Alex Burnett, University of Michigan,
  • Nikita Shepard, Columbia University,

Click here to learn more about Gregory Sprague.

WINNER: Jamey Jesperson, Trans Misogyny in the Colonial Archive: Re-Membering Trans Feminine Life and Death in New Spain, 1604-1821

This groundbreaking essay draws on trans of color critique and Native American and indigenous studies literature to argue persuasively for the productiveness of “trans femininity” as a historical category, grounded in a careful and nuanced reevaluation of archival sources from colonial New Spain between the years of 1513 and 1821. Jesperson revisits instances of colonial violence documented in Balboa’s expeditions, sodomy trials in Mexico, and Catholic missionary work in California that historians of sexuality have often interpreted as targeting proto-homosexual men. Against this tendency, in charting the emergence of what she refers to as colonial trans misogyny, Jesperson positions this history as a root of the persistent violence against trans women today, especially trans women of color in the Americas. Meticulously researched, theoretically daring, and politically engaged, Jesperson’s article is sure to provoke debate among historians. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Diego Galdo-González,The Ball of La Laguna: Class, Race, and Gender in a Mid-Twentieth-Century Cross-Dressing Ball in Lima, Perú”

WINNER: Nikita Shepard“To Fight for an End to Intrusions into the Sex Lives of Americans’: Gay and Lesbian Resistance to Sexual Surveillance and Data Collection, 1945-1972.” (published in the anthology Queer Data, ed. Patrick Keilty. University of Washington Press, 2022).

Shepard’s important chapter identifies and carefully traces striking shifts in how American gay and lesbian activists thought about data collection in the second half of the twentieth century. They contrast the current move to “Queer the Census” with mid-twentieth century gay and lesbian desires to remain illegible, and show how this earlier position derived not from a drive for abstract privacy or assimilation, but rather acute awareness of the threat of surveillance. The dialectical processes they unearth not only sheds new light on contemporary queer politics in an era of endless data, but also allows us to reconceptualize earlier gay and lesbian liberation movements.  In the end, Shephard’s work unearths “a strikingly visionary path not taken” in the queer history of privacy and surveillance in the United States.

HONORABLE MENTION: Benjamin Bernard for their dissertation chapter “The Sodomy Consultant of Paris: The Sodomy Consultant of Paris: The Abbé Nicolas Theru and the Policing of Morals at the Collège Mazarin, 1688-1737.”

WINNER: Beans Velocci, “‘Unsolved Problems of Anomalous Sex’: Managing Sexual Multiplicity in Nineteenth-Century Animal Studies” (diss. chapter in “Binary Logic: Race, Expertise, and the Persistence of Uncertainty in American Sex Research,” Yale University, History Dept.).

Joining historians like Gabriel Rosenberg, Beans Velocci (in Chapter 1 of a dissertation titled “Binary Logic: Race, Expertise, and the Persistence of Uncertainty in American Sex Research”) compellingly makes a case for the centrality of animal studies to the history of sexuality. Velocci not only explicates the ways in which animal sex science studies made sex differentiation more fraught at the same time it sought to make it more fixed, but also how such science of human and non-human sexuality relied upon eugenicist knowledge production throughout the nineteenth century. In so doing, Velocci  illustrates how a turn to animal studies gives us new tools and sources through which to analyze gendered hierarchies and racialized histories of human sexuality, both past and present. This is a theoretically provocative chapter that is deeply original in its use of sources and its analytical claims, showing how efforts at taxonomy often created far more problems than they solved, and how scientific knowledge production itself is inseparable from the hierarchical investments of those who carried out scientific studies.

HONORABLE MENTION: Wigbertson Julian Isenia, “Looking for kambrada: Sexuality and social anxieties in the Dutch colonial archive, 1882–1923,” Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies 22:2 (2019): 125-143.

WINNER: Patrick McKelvey, “Ron Whyte’s ‘Disemployment’: Prosthetic Performance and Theatrical Labor,” Theatre Survey 57, no. 3 (2016): 314-335.

Patrick McKelvey’s “Ron Whyte’s ‘Disemployment’” is a wonderful crossing of queer studies, disability studies, cultural studies, and a historical case study. The article discusses Ron Whyte, a queer disabled playwright, who mobilized his cosmetic prosthesis to stage disemployment in the 1980s. McKelvey’s article is nuanced in its analysis, and forward-thinking in how the author deploys new materialisms to bear upon queer history. A terrific piece of scholarship that has insights for a wide variety of audiences, from theatre studies to disability studies.

HONORABLE MENTION: Rachel Corbman, “Remediating Disability Activism in the Lesbian Feminist Archive,” Continuum (forthcoming).

WINNER: Abram Lewis, “We Are Certain of Our Own Insanity”: Anti-psychiatry and the Gay Liberation Movement, 1968–1980.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 25, No. 1 (January 2016): 83-113.

This essay examines LGBT activism surrounding the American Psychiatric Association’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. While this decision has been celebrated as a critical victory for LGBT rights, Lewis details a significantly more complex narrative. The declassification movement, strongly rooted in homophile politics, found opposition among progressive gays and lesbians who celebrated madness instead. Linking deviance and insanity with non-normative sexualities empowered a rejection of minority identity politics and a profession encouraging assimilation into an oppressive society. Reading gay liberationist, lesbian feminist, and French intellectual texts, the author reveals this parallel movement as a significant moment of coalitional politics. LGBT activists built upon and joined with feminist, antiracist, anticapitalist, and disability rights activists to celebrate disorder as a site of political possibility. Lewis supports this intervention in queer history with insightful analysis of the implications of the declassification campaign, arguing that the subsequent revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Model of Mental Disorders aided the psychiatric profession in reasserting their scientific authority and expanding diagnoses of gender and sexual deviance. The committee was impressed by the article’s contribution to queer history and the history of medicine as well as to feminist and disability studies.

HONORABLE MENTIONAlessio Ponzio, “From Uomini to Omosessuali. The Homosexualization of the Marchettari in the Italian Popular Discourse (1952-65).”


PRIZE WINNER: Stephen Vider, “‘A Peculiar Talent’: Measuring Masculinity, Diagnosing Decorating,” the first chapter from his dissertation, No Place Like Home: A Cultural History of Gay Domesticity, 1948-1982 (Harvard University, 2013).

Vider’s dissertation chapter examines the evolution of the stereotype of the gay interior decorator in American popular culture from the nineteenth century to the 1960s. While at their earliest appearance in the late nineteenth century male interior decorators represented a range of masculinities and sexualities, Vider convincingly shows that by the end of World War II all male interior decorators were seen as effeminate and homosexual. Vider’s innovative focus on gay domesticity – with synthesis of scholarships on domesticity, masculinity, and sexuality – provides a novel perspective and a captivating account of the fragility of postwar domestic order. Relying on a wide range of sources from films, musicals, periodicals, and cartoons to medical and social science studies, the chapter demonstrates the solidification of boundaries of heteronormative male domesticity. Vider offers insights not only to LGBTQ history but also the cultural history of the US more broadly. The committee was impressed with his innovative methodology, wide range of sources, and persuasive writing style.

HONORABLE MENTION: T. J. Tallie, “Queering Natal: Settler Logics and the Disruptive Challenge of Zulu Polygamy,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 19, no 2 (2013): 167-189.

The article examines dynamic relationships between European settlers and indigenous cultural and sexual practices in South Africa. Tallie’s analysis of indigenous, colonial, and postcolonial discourses around defining normative sexual practices and identities speaks to the growing scholarship on settler colonialism while bringing sub-Saharan Africa thoroughly into the field of queer history and theory. This sophisticated essay expands the history of sexuality in theoretical and geographic terms.



PRIZE WINNER: Ryan Lee Cartwright, “Sissies, Strumpets, and Queer Old Maids: Eugenic Family Studies and the Perversion of the Rural Idyll,” Queering the Countryside: New Directions in U.S. Rural Queer Studies, ed. Mary Gray and Colin Johnson (under review with NYU Press).

This essay examines rural U.S. gender and sexual nonconformity by making use of eugenic fieldwork from the 1910s and 1920s. It operates at the intersections of queer studies, rural studies, gender studies, and disability studies and tells us a lot about how ideas about white sexual deviance in the hovel families—particularly “promiscuity”—cemented themselves into the minds of Progressive thinkers. This intellectual trajectory would flower in social policies of the mid to late 1930s that favored support for industrial motherhood over rural motherhood. The committee was especially impressed with Cartwright’s ability to read archival sources against the grain, a crucial technique for doing queer and other subaltern histories. It is also successful at unseating the pastoral, seeing intersectionality, and asking important questions: What is the language used when categories are not stable, what must be borrowed, and what are the consequences?

HONORABLE MENTION: Howard Chiang, “The Science and Transformations of Sex in Republican China,” Ph.D. dissertation chapter (Princeton University).

This examination of the history of “sex change” in mass circulation publications in China from the 1920s to the 1940s addresses the question of how a body might be in transformation from one set of sexed/gendered characteristics to another, and the model is only partly scientific. Many transgender histories are either U.S. or European based, focused on a set of either legal or scientific epistemologies, and organized around the consolidation of identities. Chiang suggests another, perhaps more common, route: Societies with ideas about gender variance already in place had their own notions about how these might correspond, intersect with, or diverge from models emerging in endocrinology, psychology and sexology. The committee was especially appreciative of Chiang’s article in that it fills an important void in the field. He crystallizes how science understood and dealt with sex variance prior to the “discovery” of a transsexual category. It tackles larger issues of science and modernity, including the role of the media (and journalists) in advancing gender norms and also international prestige.


Co-winner: Howard H. Chiang (Princeton University), “Epistemic Modernity and the Emergence of Homosexuality in China”

Chiang’s essay is an outstanding and original examination of two early-twentieth-century Chinese sexologists whose “scientific” arguments about homosexuality were linked to processes of modernization and nationalism. While contributing most directly to the historicization of sexual science in China, Chiang’s impressively researched essay also makes effective interventions in our understanding of the transnational circulation and transmission of sexual “knowledge.”

Co-winner: Shaun Jacob Halper (University of California at Berkeley), “Fashioning Gay-Jewish Identity in Interwar Prague: The Case of Jiri Langer (1894-1944)”

Halper’s essay is an excellent and distinctive exploration of an early-twentieth-century Jewish writer from Prague who, in his personal life and his intellectual work, tried to reconcile homosexuality and Judaism. Making unique contributions to Jewish Studies and Central European Studies, Halper’s impressively researched essay encourages new ways of thinking about sexuality in relation to religion, science, ethnicity, and nationalism.


Winner: Zeb Tortorici (University of California at Los Angeles), “‘Heran Todos Putos’: Sodomitical Subcultures and Disordered Desire in Early Colonial Mexico,” Ethnohistory 54, no. 1 (2007)

Tortorici’s article examines a case of a sodomy trial in rural early colonial Mexico. Tortorici’s archival work is impressive and he places his work within the context of both American early modern colonial history and early modern European history. Through careful reading of the linguistic vocabulary in the trial record, Tortorici challenges the existing equation in the study of pre-modern homosexuality between masculinity and activity on the one hand and femininity and passivity, and argues for a more nuanced understanding of the sodomitic reality in early modern Mexico and beyond. Equally important is Tortorici’s complication of the notions of order and disorder in Colonial Mexico and early modern Spain. Here, too, his work invites historians to rethink their categories and their conceptualization of major categories.


Winner: Camille Robcis (Cornell University), “How the Symbolic Became French: Kinship and Republicanism in the PAC Debates,” Discourse 26, no. 3 (Fall 2004), 110-135

Camille Robcis effectively combines historical theory and practice in her sophisticated treatment of debates over domestic partnership laws and same-sex unions in France. In her analysis she not only recounts events and arguments, but also deftly explains the cultural importance of notions of symbolic order, kinship, and Republicanism, and the ways and means by which anthropological and psychoanalytic theories entered French political discourse. Robcisʼ article is exemplary in bridging gaps left all too often between very specific contexts and larger historical issues; in this case, she aids our understanding of late 20th century French politics while offering clues into a more pervasive resistance to same-sex marriage, even as people and governments acknowledge selected rights for LGBTQ people.

Honorable mention: Howard H. Chiang (Princeton University), “Effecting Science, Affecting Medicine: Homosexuality, the Kinsey Reports, and the Contested Boundaries of Psychopathology in the United States, 1948-1965,” Ph.D. dissertation chapter

Howard Hsueh-Hao Chiang argues persuasively that in the mid-twentieth century, Kinseyʼs statistical methodologies and divorce of sexual identity from behavior pushed mental health experts to cast doubt upon dominant pathologizing psychoanalytic models of homosexuality. By elaborating upon Kinseyʼs distinct influences on clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, Chiang shows how much the mental health profession had already liberalized around the issue of homosexuality in the decades prior to its 1973 declassification as a mental disorder. By so doing, he challenges the centrality historians have granted gay and lesbian activists as the chief oppositional force to psychoanalytic hegemony. Chiangʼs blending of discourse theory with a precision about “expert” heterogeneity serves as a valuable model for teasing out the processes through which various social actors compete for cultural authority through the bodies and minds of LGBTQ people.


Winner: Margot Canaday (University of Minnesota), “Building a Straight State: Sexuality and Social Citizenship under the 1944 G.I. Bill,” Journal of American History 90, no. 3 (December, 2003): 935-957

The G.I. Bill of 1944 was the most sweeping piece of social legislation ever passed in the United States. Canaday looks at this landmark legislation from the perspective of the thousands of gay servicemen excluded from its benefits because of undesirable discharges. Using an impressive array of sources she carefully documents the manner in which Veteran’s Administration officials extended to heterosexual (and disproportionately white) male breadwinners the fullest rewards of citizenship, while systematically denying them to those perceived as failing to conform to the postwar ideology of the American family. Her article supplies a new and intimate view of the way post-World War II race, gender and sexual norms were enforced, who was helped by them and who was hurt. It also provides important historical background for current debates about the relationship of gays and lesbians both to military to family life and to military service.

Honorable mention: Terence Kissack (Graduate Center, City University of New York), “‘Urnings,’ ‘Lesbians,’ and Other Strange Topics’: Sexology and the Politics of Homosexuality,” Ph.D. dissertation chapter

Through a close reading of Emma Goldman’s correspondence and a range of other sources, Kissack argues for the centrality of a pro-homosexual message to her and other American anarchists’ world view. Some of this story has been told before, but not at this level of detail, or with a sense of how committed many of the anarchists were to rethinking American sexual mores and taboos. Kissack demonstrates the fearlessness with which Goldman and others publically aired their views, and well as their particular enthusiasm for European sexologists and sex radicals such as Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis, and Edward Carpenter. He also shows the appeal the anarchist movement had for some homegrown lesbians, gays and bisexuals. The chapter revises our understanding of American anarchism at the same time that it casts a more sympathetic eye than some historians have done at the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century sexologists’ attempts to understand homosexuality.


Winner: Martin Meeker (University of Southern California), “Behind the Mask of Respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10, no. 1 (2001): 78-116.

In his compelling article, Meeker invites historians to reconsider the place that the Mattachine Society has held for nearly two decades in GLBT historiography. In particular, Meeker questions the standard interpretation of the Mattachine as adopting a somewhat cowardly conservative sexual politics focused on assimilation. He suggests instead that Mattachine leaders wore a ‘mask of respectability’ as a deliberate and effective political tactic. Such dissembling disguised the group’s activities during the 1950s and 1960s, and has had the lasting consequence, Meeker tells us, of ensuring that ‘the homophiles are now remembered precisely through the dissembled image they presented to the public rather than the work they conducted behind the mask.’ Meeker’s work represents an important second generation in the historiography of the homophile movement, providing historians with a more nuanced point of origin from which to study the gay civil rights movement.

First runner up: Thomas Foster (Johns Hopkins University), “Locating Sodomy in 18th Century Massachusetts,” Ph.D. dissertation chapter

Foster’s work, which explores the formulation of ideas about sodomy in 18th century Massachusetts, makes a highly original contribution to the vastly understudied historiography of same-sex sexuality in early America. Using such varied sources as court records, sermons, newspaper accounts, and anti-Free Mason tracts, Foster draws three important conclusions regarding ideas about sodomy in 18th century Massachusetts: First, sodomy was linked to anxiety about the developing commercial economy; second, sodomy was viewed not only as a behavior but as a marker of an inner disposition; and third, discourses about sodomy were employed in 18th century political satire.


Winner: Kevin Murphy (New York University), “Socrates in the Slums: Homoerotics, Gender, and Settlement House Reform,” in Laura McCall and Donald Yacovone, eds., A Shared Experience: Men, Women, and the History of Gender (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 273–296

In his illuminating article about the settlement house movement, Kevin Murphy opens a new area of historical inquiry by highlighting the world of male friendships. Considering the attention that has been lavished on the female friendships that proliferated in the homosocial universe of female reform, it is remarkable that this topic has been ignored until now. Murphy examines the cases of Charles Stover and John Lovejoy Elliott, whose lives and ideological commitments illustrate how themes of class mobility and exchange joined the history of social reform to the urban sexual communities then emerging in the United States. According to Murphy, Stover and Elliott sought to play “socratic” roles in the lives of the young working-class men they instructed and mentored. Though they framed their ideals of “social brotherhood” in Whitmanesque terms, these male bonds came threateningly close to pederasty in a society fearful of the sexual corruption associated with urbanism and immigration. By showing that the reconsideration of masculinity and male/male relationships were as relevant to settlement as their female counterparts, Murphy adds a new chapter to gay and lesbian history at the same time that he provokes readers to think about how this reform milieu made new kinds of relationships between men and women possible.

Honorable mention: Chad Heap (University of Chicago), “The Queer Craze in Black and White,” Ph.D. dissertation chapter

Honorable mention: Michael J. Murphy (Washington University), “Arrow’s Eros?: Homoeroticism and J. C. Leyendecker’s Arrow Collar Ads,” seminar paper


Winner: James N. Green (University of California at Los Angeles), “New Words, New Spaces, New Identities, 1945–1969,” Ph.D. dissertation chapter


Winner: Marc Stein (University of Pennsylvania), “Rizzo’s Raiders, Beaten Beats, and Coffeehouse Culture,” Ph.D. dissertation chapter


Co-winner: Katie Gilmartin, “‘Call Me An Amazon’: Sexual Identities and Gender Identities among Colorado Lesbians, 1940–60″

Co-winner: David Johnson (Northwestern University), “Queer Life / Queer Words: The Culture of Gay Male Desire in 1930s Chicago,” seminar paper

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