Primary resources on sexuality can be found throughout the holdings of the Rare and Manuscript Division. Some are about sex; others are about sexual identity, sexual politics, or relationships. These collections document mainstream sexuality, as well as various margins and contested areas of sexuality. Some sources are clearly about sexuality and may have been collected specifically for the Human Sexuality Collection, while others will contain only inferences and suggestions about cultural notions of sexuality, and you may need to find these sources through chance or creativity. Here are just a few suggested ways in which you may find primary sources for the study of sexuality in RMC.
In 1988, the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation donated its accumulated archive and Cornell created the Human Sexuality Collection. In so doing, the University made a commitment to actively document important areas in sexuality and sexual politics. The Human Sexuality Collection focuses on collecting and preserving documentation that seldom found its way into major research libraries in the past. The principal emphases of the collection are lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered lives and the politics of pornography. However, there are sources for the study of sexuality present in the general library holdings that may have gone unnoticed before the current growth of research interest in the field. Evidence of how a culture has defined sexuality and gender roles over time can be discovered in a wide range of historical and literary materials. The rare book collections include, for example, works by early sexologists and books that were censored for their sexual content such as Radclyffe Hall’s the Well of Loneliness and Ulysses by James Joyce.
Manuscript Collections also document social behavior such as marriage, college dances, dating, and notions of family and child rearing. Correspondence between lovers and spouses, and personal diaries can offer insight into the every day lives and concerns of families and couples. Examples of materials in the Rare and Manuscript Collections that document these kinds of relationships can be found in letters between members of the Presidential Adams family, in Cornell student scrapbooks, and in the letters of Helen Macgill White, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, and many others. Scholars in lesbian history will be interested in the papers of Flora Rose and Martha Van Rensselaer, both early leaders of the New York State College on Home Economics.
Finding collections that document sexuality and gender relations, however, will sometimes take a bit of creative searching in the Cornell Catalog. For instance, while there aren’t any subject headings directly related to sexuality attached to the Lucille H. Cuningham oral histories, the collection description mentions her “courtship and marriage to Robert V. Call.” Remember, when looking at archival and manuscript records in the Cornell online Catalog, type in “long” to see the most complete version of the record. For more information on how to locate original research materials at Cornell, see Finding Materials.