Professor Kate Fisher

Research interests

My research focuses primarily around the history of sexuality.

Twentieth Century Sexual Experiences (Marriage and Birth Control) in Britain

I work on the twentieth century social history of sexual attitudes and practices, especially within marriage. I have published two monographs exploring these themes: My first book, Birth Control, Sex and Marriage in Britain, 1918-1960, won The Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize in 2007 and my second book, co-written with Professor Simon Szreter of the University of Cambridge, Sex Before the Sexual Revolution, was named Guardian Book of the Week in 2011. You can hear me discuss the book on Radio Four’s Thinking Allowed.

Rethinking Sexology

In 2015, I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Joint Investigator Award to direct a 5-year project on “The Cross-Disciplinary Invention of Sexuality: Sexual Science Beyond the Medical, 1890-1940” together with Dr Jana Funke.

The research reconsiders how modern understandings of sexuality were constructed by scholars from across the human, social and medical sciences who began to work together to understand the biological, psychological and cultural dimensions of sexual behaviour.Fascinated by historical and cultural variation, and driven by social and political debates, for example, about racial difference, the nature of civilization, the dangers of degeneration, or the problems of ‘Victorian repression’, sexual scientists examined sexual practices across history and around the world to make sense of their own society. The questions they posed contributed significantly to the creation of categories through which we still understand sexuality today: what was normal or abnormal? What was pathological or healthy? What was the role of nature and nurture? Thus the project sheds new light on the evolution of a range of categories that are central to understandings of human behaviour in the modern world. The project will also raise broader questions about the dynamics of cross-disciplinary exchange and seek to intervene in debates about sexual health and wellbeing today through an ambitious public engagement and impact programme

Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History

In collaboration with Professor Rebecca Langlands (Department of Classics & Ancient History), I am exploring the ways in which, in making sense of sexual behaviour, Western society has often looked to a wide variety of past cultures and civilizations (from antiquity to the Far East, from primitive cultures to the Victorians). This research interrogates the Western fascination with sex in the past and examines the various ways the past has been marshalled in debates about sex and sexuality - to challenge contemporary beliefs, to sustain sexual identities, in support of movements for sexual reform, or in reinforcing claims about universal human desires. Rebecca and I have written about the way people (including scholars, museum curators, writers and tourists) have responded to the sexually explicit material from Pompeii and Herculaneum over the centuries. A co-edited volume Sex, Knowledge and Receptions of the Pastincluding articles from scholars in a range of disciplines, investigates the way that the past is used as an authority in the construction of knowledge about sex.

Approaches to Sex Education

In collaboration with Professor Rebecca Langlands and Dr Jen Grove, drawing on the experiences of the Sex and History Project, I am exploring the value material from the past, such as historical artefacts depicting an aspect of sex or sexuality, in generating open conversations with young people about sex in a variety of settings, including schools, pupil referral units and museums