History 171S.01.
The History of Intimacy


Companionate marriage, 1927

Why did this couple make headlines?

krishna and radha

Radha and Krishna caught in a storm, Mughal miniature, ca. 1615 CE

genji and beloved

Genji and beloved from the twelfth-century CE Genji monogatari emaki.








Mondays 3:05-5:30 pm, 229 Carr Bldg.
William M. Reddy


This gateway seminar provides an apprenticeship in research and writing on the history of intimacy. The first half of the semester will (1) focus on discussions of readings covering how intimacy has been structured or understood in many periods across Eurasia and North America, and (2) provide students with opportunities to select a research topic and begin working on a research paper. The second half of the semester will be devoted to presentation of progress reports on our research, in a relaxed atmosphere, permitting mutual support and suggestions. The research paper will be due on the last day of class.

Grading: Attendance at the seminar sessions and participation in discussions is crucial to this course, and will count for 20% of the grade. There will be an initial, short paper (5-6 pp.) due in the first four weeks of class (10% of grade). Presentation of a progress report in class will count as 20% of the grade. The final paper will count as 50% of the grade.

Research topics: Students will be offered a wide variety of possible research topics. Those who are interested may wish to examine ancient or medieval European intimacy, or close relationships in South Asia or Japan. Most students may perhaps prefer to examine intimate relationships in more recent centuries. Variations in sexual orientations and gender identities will be of interest to some. In all cases, students' research will include or focus on "primary documents," that is, the original writings of persons in the past.

Fortunately Rubenstein Library at Duke has a very rich collection of personal papers, especially from the U.S. in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, consisting often of personal letters between partners and spouses. These include letters of enslaved or formerly enslaved persons as well as persons who sought out same-sex relationships. Rubenstein Librarian Kate Collins will personally assist each student who wishes to work on these fascinating documents.

A tentative calendar for the readings of the first half of the semester:

Wednesday, January 8. Introduction

Monday, January 13. Ancient Europe (Seventh Century BCE to Fourth Century CE)
Reading: Plutarch, Life of Marcus Antonius, online.

Monday, January 20—Martin Luther King Day

Monday, January 27. Medieval Europe (Fifth to Fifteenth Centuries, CE).
Reading: The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, translated by Betty Radice (Penguin, 2004), selected letters. ISBN: 978-0140448993.

Monday, February 3. Heian Japan (Tenth and Eleventh Centuries, CE).
Reading: Murasaki Shikibu, Tale of Genji, selections.

Monday, February 10. South Asia, post-Gupta period (Sixth to Thirteenth Centuries, CE).
Reading: Lee Siegel, Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions As Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 21-88, 240-286, online.

Monday, February 17. Early Modern Europe (1450-1815 CE).
Reading: Dorothy Osborne, Letters, 1652-1654, online.

Monday, February 24. Europe and Anglophone North America in the Nineteenth Century.
Reading: Karen Lystra, Searching the Heart: Women, Men and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) ISBN-13: 9780195074765
Heather Andrea Williams, Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery (Chapel Hill, N.C.: UNC Press, 2012)


Monday, March 3. Europe and Anglophone North America in the Twentieth Century.
Reading: Claire Langhamer, The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) ISBN-13: 978-0199594436

9-16 March. Spring Break

Monday, March 17, and thereafter: student progress reports.