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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

'Rape, Victim-Blaming and Progress in Early Modern England and Wales'

24th February 2015, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Garthine Walker, University of Cardiff

followed by a drinks reception at the Cafe, Palace Green Library.

This event is part of the IMEMS Limits of the Human seminar series for 2014/15. Please note that places are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. To book click here

Abstract: This paper explores the changing ways in which the legal and cultural culpability for rape was ascribed in the early modern period. Modern concepts of ‘victim-blaming’ (which focus on women and girls who have been raped rather than the men who raped them) and of rape culture (which again puts the onus for avoiding rape on women rather than on men) often seem transhistorical. In the early modern period, however, people had quite distinct understandings of the causes and effects of rape, which were not entirely the same as ours. Earlier in the period, rape was commonly viewed as either an ordinary expression of male sexual desire to which any man might succumb or as an extraordinary and monstrous demonstration of unnatural desires. During the eighteenth century, the latter view of the unnatural lusts of the monstrous rapist became dominant as ordinary men’s sexual behaviours were constructed as not-rape. I shall demonstrate that as part of this process, women were increasingly held responsible for rape as now-familiar notions of victim-blaming gained greater purchase in the courts and beyond, and that this change was associated with trends that we usually consider positively in terms of ‘progress’.

Garthine Walker is Reader in History at Cardiff University, and a specialist in the histories of gender and of crime in the 16th to 18th centuries, and in approaches to historical writing. Her publications include Crime, Gender and Social Order in Early Modern England (Cambridge UP, 2003), several edited volumes including Gender and Change: Agency, Chronology and Periodisation (2009), The Extraordinary and the Everyday in Early Modern England (2008), and Writing Early Modern History (2005), and a number of journal articles and book chapters. She currently holds a 36-month Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship (2013-2016) for her major project on the history of rape 1500-1800, and is Co-Investigator on an AHRC-funded four-year project, ‘Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice: Britain and Ireland c.1100-c.1750’ with colleagues at the Universities of Glasgow and Swansea.

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