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. 

Selected invited speaker presentations and workshops

  • Department of Classics Seminar Series, University of Reading, October 2018.
  • Workshop at Regional Networking Event, hosted by the Bristol Centre for Health, Humanities and Science and the Exeter Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, in association with the Regional Medical Humanities Network, March 2018 (with Michael Flexer).
  • Public Engagement Workshop: Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, March 2018.
  • LGBT+ Classics: Teaching, Research, and Activism, hosted by Women's Classical Committee, University of Reading, February 2018.The fourth John Addington Symonds Celebration event in conjunction with Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition and the OutStories Bristol AGM: University of Bristol, October 2017: ‘EP Warren's Classical erotica: LGBT+ activism and objects from the past’.
  • British Art Network seminar: Queer British Art, Tate Britain, 2017: ‘Queer Identities?’
  • Postgraduate Theatre Research Seminar, University of Bristol, May 2014: ‘'Interpreting Erotica: using archives to understand the collection and reception of sexual antiquities at the turn of the twentieth century'.
  • Classical Archaeology Seminar, Institute of Classical Studies, London, February 2012: ‘'Henry Wellcome's Classical Erotica: sexually related antiquities collected for the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in the early 20th century'.

Selected papers 

  • Sexology and Development: Exploring the Global History of the Sexual Sciences, University of Exeter and University of Lincoln, October 2018, ‘"Ancient codes" and "biologic norms": Kinsey's uses of cultural development and classical archaeology’.
  • 24th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, Barcelona, September 2018, ‘Sexologists as collectors of archaeological erotica in the late nineteenth and twentieth century’.
  • Reproductive and Sexual Health Activism, c.1960-present, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, July 2018, ‘Sexual health and museum artefacts: Exploring the University of Exeter’s “Sex & History” project’.
  • Culture, Creativity and Wellbeing Symposium, University of British Columbia / University of Exeter, May 2018, ‘How can history help to improve sexual health and wellbeing?’
  • Sex, sexuality & reproduction: historical perspectives, 32nd Irish Conference of Historians, University College Cork, April 2018, ‘Sexologists as collectors of historical erotica in the first half of the twentieth century’.
  • Engage Conference, National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, Bristol, December 2016, ‘Public Engagement Experts, Mapping the researcher/professional landscape’. The workshop appeared in the London Engagement Network’s top ten workshops of the conference.
  • Public Engagement as Method, University of Sheffield, July 2016: ‘Engaged Research: What does it mean for the historian?’.
  • History of Sexuality PGR/ECR Conference, University of Exeter, July 2016, workshop on Public Engagement and Impact.
  • Moving Trans* History Forward 2016, University of Victoria, Canada, March 2016: 'Trans* History Meets the History of Sexology: Interrogating the Past, Engaging Communities' (with Jana Funke).
  • Classical Association Annual Conference, University of Nottingham, April 2014: ‘'Sex and History: using ancient images to tackle ‘pornography’ with young people'.
  • Classics in Communities: Theories and Practices to develop Classics Outreach in the 21st Century, University of Oxford, November 2013: ‘'Making Learning Differently' (with Alex Wardrop and Sam Thomas) and 'Sex and History: Talking sex with objects from the past'.
  • Bodies of evidence: re-defining approaches to the anatomical votive, The British School at Rome, June 5th 2011: ‘Roman votive genitalia in the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum'.
  • The Reception of Rome and the Construction of Western Homosexual Identities, Durham University, April 2012: ‘The role of Roman artefacts in E. P. Warren's ‘paederastic evangel’’.
  • Not Just For the Record: Enlivening Archives?, Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, November, 2011: ‘’My plans exist in my mind like a jig-saw puzzle’: Piecing together Henry Wellcome's ideas through the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum archives and the question of the erotic acquisitions’.
  • Demystifying Public Engagement: Gender and Sexuality Beyond the Academy conference, Newcastle University, May 2011: ‘Engaging Young People: A day trip to Sir Henry’s Wellcome’s erotica and sexually related collection'.
  • Classical Association Annual Conference, Durham University, April 2011: ‘Greek and Roman sexual artefacts collected for the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in the early twentieth century'.