Contemporary U.S. debates over affirmative action, abortion rights, and gay marriage are only a few of the most recent flash points that illustrate how questions of race, gender, and sexuality have profoundly shaped societies, religious beliefs, personal identity, and political mobilization across history and across the globe. The sources of these debates and their ultimate stakes are best understood through study of their historical development. Marriage, to take just one example, has long structured (widely varying) expectations about gender for both men and women and the relations between them, has regulated sexual expression by sanctioning some forms of such expression and stigmatizing others, and has served (through bans on some kinds of marriages and the advocacy of others) to uphold ideas of racial purity and to shore up the power of elites and empires in places as diverse as Mughal India, the Dutch East Indies, and Nazi Germany. Debates about marriage today—in North America, Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere—result from long-term changes in each of these elements.
This pathway illuminates the interrelated historical development of race, gender, and sexuality as powerful axes of social difference that have structured social hierarchy and inequality, from regimes of slavery and apartheid to legal and cultural criteria for immigration, employment, inheritance, and citizenship. It also explores the categories of race, gender, and sexuality as sources of self-identity, collective belonging, and social organization as well as sources of cultural and political conflict, and investigates them as objects of scientific inquiry, government management, and legal regulation. The pathway asks students to explore the historical construction of these seemingly natural categories, how they have intersected with one another, and how they have constituted, supported, and subverted other social and political formations, such as class, nation, and empire.