Queer seminar: Ghosts and horny ladies: Studying queerness among women in 18th and 19th century Iceland

  • Date: –20:00
  • Location: Centrum för genusvetenskap
  • Lecturer: Iris Ellenberger, PhD in history and guest researcher at the Centre for Gender Research
  • Website
  • Contact person: Nicole Ovesen
  • Seminarium

Queer seminar

Ghosts and horny ladies: Studying queerness among women in 18th and 19th century Iceland
Íris Ellenberger, PhD in History and guest researcher at the Centre for Gender Research. 

1616 was a particularily bad year for the inhabitants of the the valley Gufudalur in the remote Westfjords of Iceland. Three people died from smallpox and came back as ghosts to pester the inhabitants. Among them were two women who bound to each other with an oath. These ghosts are among the earliest possible example of queer sexuality among women in Icelandic history.

Queer history is an underresearched field in Iceland for many reasons. One has to do with source material. Sources that have proven fruitful for scholars in other Western countries are largely silent about queer sexualities in the Icelandic case, especially about women. These include court documents, literature, memoirs and personal archives. The project Hidden Women. Women and  queer sexualities in Icelandic sources 1700–1960 was established in 2017 to address this situation, systematically search for source material on women's queer sexualities and to provide a basis for further research.

In this lecture I introduce some of the sources and the themes that have emerged from them. I talk about horny ladies, cross-dressing sailor women, life-long partners, close friends, legendary "man-women", to name a few. I discuss possible Icelandic particularities as well as surprising similarities with other European countries and the challenges of interpreting these fragments of a peripheral society's past with concepts and theoretical tools designed for more recent times and less distant societies.

All welcome! No registration required!