Dr Jen Grove

Research interests

I am currently based in the Centre for Medical History and my research crosses the disciplinary boundaries of classics and ancient history; the history of sexuality; the history of medicine; art history; and collecting and museum studies. 

I focus on the collection and reception of classical, and other historical, material culture and the way in which this has informed modern ideas about sex and sexuality, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

I am especially interested in ‘Engaged Research’, as a new model for research and for engagement outside the academy. See my External Engagement for more details.

Constructions of Sexual Knowledge
History of Sexual Science and Medical Humanities
Classical Reception and history of sexuality
Censorship, 'pornography' and collecting cultures
Colonial histories of anthropology and archaeology
Selected Conference and Seminar Presentations

Constructions of Sexual Knowledge

With Professor Kate Fisher (History), Professor Rebecca Langlands (Classics) and Dr Jana Funke (English) I co-direct the interdisciplinary Sexual Knowledge unit which considers how we have and continue to construct knowledge about sex and sexuality; the different forms of knowledge about sex that have emerged and been authorized, articulated, disseminated, applied, challenged and revised throughout history; and how they have and are applied in a variety of different settings and for different ends.

History of Sexual Science and Medical Humanities

I am currently a research fellow on a five-year Wellcome Trust-funded project "Rethinking Sexology: The Cross-Disciplinary Invention of Sexuality: Sexual Science Beyond the Medical, 1890-1940 led by Professor Kate Fisher (History) and Dr Jana Funke (English). The project will run from 2015 to 2020 and seeks to explore the cross-disciplinary exchange at the heart of early sexual science between medical and non-medical forms of knowledge, such as historical, archaeological, anthropological, artistic and literary.

My research will highlight the importance of collecting and material culture for new scientific understandings of sex in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in particular how ancient objects and imagery were used as evidence in debates over e.g. historical and cultural variation to attitudes about same-sex relationships and the nature and limits of ‘civilization’.

The project will raise broader questions about the dynamics of cross-disciplinary exchange, and seek to demonstrate how this research can be insightful in debates about sexual health and wellbeing today through an ambitious public engagement and impact programme, therefore feeding directly into questions at the heart of the Medical Humanities.

Classical Reception and history of sexuality

I am affiliated with the Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History project directed by Professors Kate Fisher (History) and Rebecca Langlands (Classics), which pioneers a new direction for the history of sexuality, applying the approaches and methodologies of the emerging discipline of Classical Reception to the study of the ways that ideas about sex and sexuality have developed in recent centuries. Encounters with historical material provide eye-opening and empowering examples of cultural diversity which can expand horizons, open up new ways of thinking and legitimate alternative ways of being.

I have published on the role of antiquity, specifically Roman sculpture and other antiquities, in the development of modern homosexual identities, notably through the study of the early twentieth century homoerotic collection of Edward Perry Warren which included the famous Warren Cup showing anal sex between ancient men.

I am also working (with Dr Jana Funke) on a co-edited volume entitled Desiring Statues: Statuary, Sexuality and History. 

Censorship, 'pornography' and collecting cultures

My work on the history of the modern collection of sexually-themed artefacts and their treatment within museums has bolstered theories, following Michel Foucault, which challenge the notion of a comprehensive repression of all discourses about sexuality in previous centuries in the West, and points to a moment of expanded debate about sex beginning in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Previous histories of the modern reception of ancient images of sex have focused on the censorship of this material and its treated as 'pornography' from its mass discovery in the eighteenth century until well into the twentieth. My doctoral thesis used archival research to show that, far from being a source of universal anxiety or embarrassment, hundreds of vases, statues, lamps and other artefacts - all with sexual themes - were being deliberately and systemically sought out by collectors and museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Furthermore, my research shows that, influenced in part by anthropological thinking and the notion of the ‘Scientific Museum’, this was part of a movement which treated material culture as the primary source for understanding cultural attitudes and practices: in this case ‘erotica’ was treated seriously as important evidence of ancient approaches to sexuality and sexual imagery.

Colonial histories of anthropology and archaeology

My research extends our understanding of the role of sex and material culture - especially archaeological evidence - in colonial constructions of ‘civilisation’ and the ‘cultural evolution’ of humanity, whether these were used to justify the imperial project or subvert contemporary, Christian society and morality.

I have published on the historical medical collection of Sir Henry Wellcome as a case-study for the way in which ancient amulets and votives shaped as human sexual anatomy were collected in great quantities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as part of an interest in links between sexuality and spirituality, and broader connections between health and religion, in more ‘primitive’ societies.

In particular I show that this continued an intellectual tradition originating from the Enlightenment discovery of the ubiquitous image of the erect penis across the recently excavated cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the newly ‘discovered’ Hindu temples of India, and which used archaeology, collecting and art history to demonstrate that ‘phallic worship’ and fertility ritual were the origin of all world religions.