Press Releases: Historiography Edition
Social History, Urban History, Cultural History, Gender History, LGBTQ+ History, American History, Political History
New York City, New York
Citation for First Edition/Printing
Historian George Chauncey spent years, 1977 through 1989, achieving a Ph.D. in history, and has been studying history ever since, specifically focusing on global sexualities (gender and sexuality literature). Chauncey, a historian of gender, sexuality, and American LGBTQ history, had used his years of study to write a book titled Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (1994). Chauncey combines social history, urban history, and cultural history as well as his expertise in LGBTQ history to capture what life was really like for gay males in the free, gay, capitol of America: New York. Chauncey’s perplexing use of true accounts, events, and primary sources of the gay world during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in New York sets Gay New York apart from any other previous scholarship of these studies.
Gay New York is a pioneering work of social history, urban history, and cultural history for LGBTQ people because nobody before had written as accurate of history of LGBTQ people: “Although evidence cited by previous scholars indicated the bare outlines of these cultures, until now no one had explored and reproduced them with such careful attention to detail (1). In other words, nobody has been as more accurate as Chauncey on what gay life really was like during this time frame. Chauncey flawlessly used newspaper articles, archives of reform organizations, police and court records, popular cartoons and caricatures, guidebooks, maps, and so many other primary sources to provide a textured and accurate account of what gay life was really like. Chauncey also debunks the popular belief/myth that gay people had to live double-lives and live in the shadows. In other words, Chauncey uses social, urban, cultural history, and many primary sources to reveal how gay people in New York actually were able to live freely.
Chauncey flawlessly uses social history, urban history, and cultural history throughout Gay New York to analyze the true history of LGBTQ+ people’s lives in New York City during the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Chauncey contributes to the study of social, urban, and cultural history through his use of firsthand accounts, events, and primary sources to tell behind the scenes stories and to add LGBTQ+ people into the mainstream narratives in nineteenth and early twentieth century America. Throughout Gay New York, Chauncey uses his expertise in LGBTQ+ history to debunk the common misconception that gay people during this time period had to stay hidden at all times. Chauncey contributes to the social history aspect by describing the ways and where gay people in New York socialized (fairy hang-outs, gay bathhouses, public restrooms, cafeterias, and many other spots downtown. Chauncey does not deny the stigma in America around “being gay,” and describes the hardships to gay life in the city such as the prohibition on alcohol in 1920 that negatively affected social life at bars (where gay people most commonly could socialize together). Chauncey then explains the urban history of the people of the gay community with the help of the social history and descriptions of urbanization, where, and how gay people interacted in certain places/structures in the city. Lastly, Chauncey contributes to the cultural history of gay people in New York by describing common celebrations, hang-outs, and/or events that gay people would hold (masquerades, civil/drag balls, and underground meeting places/shows).
There are very few critiques to Chauncey’s Gay New York, but one part of history during the time period in which Gay New York was written, race, was not a big focus in his book but race/racism was a very big and important issue during the same time. Because of the fallback on the topic of race, the gay people in Gay New York, especially those who were middle class people who often participated in the gay community and meeting places, are assumed to be white. Readers are left to wonder what role race played in the construction of the gay world in New York during this time (2).
Impact on Historiography
George Chauncey’s Gay New York was and still is a groundbreaking analysis and study of the lives of people of the gay community and how that community was built. As a commemoration, Gay New York was published 25 years after the Stonewall Uprising (3). Gay New York is a pioneering work to the history of sexuality, gender and LGBTQ+. Just recently, in 2022, George Chauncey was awarded with the 2022 John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity (4). George Chauncey has improved and revised the understanding of LGBTQ+ history in the United States and in doing so has established it as one of the most vibrant fields of historical inquiry (5).
1: Judson, Pieter. “History Meets Ethnography.” Book Review of George Chauncey’s “Gay New York”
2: Stack, Brian, and Peter Boag. 2019. “GEORGE CHAUNCEY’S GAY NEW YORK: A VIEW FROM 25 YEARS LATER.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 18 (1). Cambridge University Press: 120–32. doi:10.1017/S1537781418000622.
3. “Research Guides: LGBTQIA+ Studies: A Resource Guide: 1969: The Stonewall Uprising.” 1969: The Stonewall Uprising – LGBTQIA+ Studies: A Resource Guide – Research Guides at Library of Congress. Accessed December 15, 2022. https://guides.loc.gov/lgbtq-studies/stonewall-era.
4: “Kluge Prize : the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress : Programs : Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. Accessed December 15, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/programs/john-w-kluge-center/kluge-prize?loclr=blogloc.
5: Zongker, Brett. “George Chauncey, Kluge Winner.” George Chauncey, Kluge Winner | Library of Congress Blog, June 22, 2022. https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2022/06/george-chauncey-kluge-winner/.