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John Boswell papers

 Collection
Call Number: MS 1974

Scope and Contents

The papers primarily consist of correspondence, lectures, research notes, writings (academic and fiction), biographical records, subject files, and memorabilia (including awards and popular press writings about Boswell). The papers document Boswell's personal life, from childhood to adulthood, as well as his professional life as an openly gay professor of history at Yale and pioneering author of two revisionist histories documenting the relationship between gay people and Christianity in the Middle Ages: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (New York: Villard Books, 1994). Of particular note are the large number of electronic files Boswell created in the 1980s and 1990s. Stored on 162 floppy disks, these files provide, among other things, much of Boswell's outgoing correspondence during the last thirteen years of his life, as well as research notes and drafts of some of his professional writings. The paper and electronic correspondence, some of it of an extremely personal and intimate nature, documents Boswell's relationship with his mother, his younger sister, Patricia, his brothers, Wray and Henry III, his partner, Jerone R. Hart, his close friend Ralph J. Hexter, New Haven neighbors, academic publishers, various Yale students and colleagues, and other academics in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and Japan.

The biographical records feature birth and other vital records, passports, and résumés. Boswell’s memorabilia consists primarily of awards and popular press writings about him. The writings in the professinal files include commonplace books, travel diaries, student work, creative writing, and petitions in legal cases involving gay and lesbian military officers, as well as scholarship. Both paper and electronic writings feature drafts of some but not all of his scholarly work. Notably absent are drafts of The Royal Treasure (a small portion of which is included in the Personal Papers Series as part of his dissertation) and of The Kindness of Strangers, for example, whereas a complete paper draft of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality is included. Parts of Same-Sex Unions can be found in the electronic files, though not in the paper files. Along with his syllabi, course packs, lectures, conference papers, research notes, photocopies of source material (much of it in foreign languages), and published reviews of his books by others, these materials offer a particularly rich trove of material because they document Boswell's development both as a gay man and as a leading medieval historian from an early age. Some handwritten notes and original folder labels are cryptically abbreviated or written in foreign languages, typically Greek, Latin, or Arabic.

Dates

  • 1947-2004

Creator

Language of Materials

The materials are primarily in English, but there are also documents in Arabic, Catalan, Church Slavonic, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

Series I-III are open for research. Series IV, Electronic files, is closed until processed. Access to Accession 2018-M-0057 requires the written permission of Patricia Eastburn Boswell during her lifetime.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for the unpublished papers of John Boswell is retained by Ralph J. Hexter, Boswell’s literary executor. After the lifetime of Ralph J. Hexter, or 1 January 2031, whichever comes first, copyright passes to Yale University.

Copyright for the unpublished papers of Patricia Eastburn Boswell and for those of her parents, Col. Henry Boswell, Jr. and Catharine Boswell, is retained by Patricia Eastburn Boswell. After the lifetime of Patricia Eastburn Boswell, or 1 January 2050, whichever comes first, copyright passes to Yale University.

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ralph J. Hexter, 2010; Patricia Eastburn Boswell, 2012; and Yun-Hsiang Chiang, 2012.

Arrangement

Arranged in three series and two additions: I. Correspondence, 1959-1996. II. Personal Papers, circa 1947-2003. III. Professional Papers, circa 1970-2004. IV. Electronic files, circa 1984-circa 1992.

Extent

46 Linear Feet (95 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

https://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.1974

Overview

The papers primarily consist of correspondence, lectures, research notes, writings (academic and fiction), biographical records, subject files, and memorabilia (including awards and popular press writings about Boswell). The papers document Boswell's personal life, from childhood to adulthood, as well as his professional life as an openly gay professor of history at Yale and pioneering author of two revisionist histories documenting the relationship between gay people and Christianity in the Middle Ages: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (New York: Villard Books, 1994).

Biographical / Historical

The American philologist and historian John Eastburn Boswell (1947- 1994) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 20, 1947. He attended the College of William and Mary, graduating in 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts in history, and Harvard, earning a doctorate in history in 1975. His dissertation was published as The Royal Treasure: Muslim Communities under the Crown of Aragon in the Fourteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977). In 1975 Boswell began teaching in the History Department at Yale. Five years later he published his second book, the pioneering Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). In 1988 Boswell published The Kindness of Strangers: Child Abandonment in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance (New York: Pantheon Books). Boswell was named A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History in 1990, when he began a two-year term as Chairman of the Yale History Department. In the last year of his life, Boswell published the groundbreaking and controversial Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (New York: Villard Books, 1994).

John Boswell was the second child of Catherine S. Eastburn and Colonel Henry Boswell, Jr. As a child in a military family, he spent his early years in Georgia, at West Point, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and abroad in Ankara, Turkey, as well as Spain and West Germany. Boswell was raised as a Quaker and then became an Episcopalian before converting to Catholicism at age fifteen. Boswell’s Catholicism quickly became central to his ethos, and would exert a profound influence on his scholarship, as well on as his personal life. Indeed, in the years ahead, colleagues would often skeptically call upon him to explain how someone so profoundly learned and rational could also be deeply religious.

Boswell attended the College of William and Mary where, as a National Merit Scholar, he became a member of the honorary fraternities Phi Eta Sigma, Pi Delta Epsilon, Eta Sigma Phi, and Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts as an Outstanding Graduate in History. A few years later, Boswell began an intimate relationship with Jerone R. Hart, a relationship that lasted until Boswell’s death.

In 1970 Boswell entered the graduate program in history at Harvard, where he was awarded both Woodrow Wilson and Graduate Prize fellowships and earned a master’s in 1971 and a doctorate in 1975. His dissertation, written under the supervision of Giles Constable and Jocelyn Hillgarth, comprised a social study of the relationships between the Muslim subject minority and the dominant Christian society in medieval Spain. This work was published as The Royal Treasure: Muslim Communities under the Crown of Aragon in the Fourteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977). In 1975 Boswell began teaching at Yale as Assistant Professor of History. In 1978 his students voted him one of the eleven best teachers at Yale.

Boswell studied many foreign languages over the course of his life: Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Russian, Church Slavonic, Aragonese, Provençal, and Old Icelandic/Norse, as well as some classical Armenian, Syriac, and Persian. He often remarked to colleagues that his practice was to teach himself one new language each year.

Ten years of research, begun while in graduate school and conducted alongside his dissertation, led to the publication of Boswell’s second book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). It should be noted that Boswell often remarked that he had been warned by friends and colleagues not to publish this book for fear that such a controversial publication would destroy his academic reputation, and that he savored the irony that the work instead considerably enhanced his career. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality immediately garnered high praise: The New York Times Book Review selected it as one of eleven best books of 1980; it was one of five non-fiction nominees for National Book Critics Circle Award; and it won the American Book Award for History and a Melcher Award in 1981. The success of this book resulted in Boswell's promotion at Yale from Associate Professor to Professor of History in 1982. The book was eventually translated into French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Also in 1982, Boswell was honored with the William Clyde DeVane Medal for Teaching and Scholarship. Moreover, he authored the pamphlet (based on the Fifth Michael Harding Memorial Address) Rediscovering Gay History: Archetypes of Gay Love in Christian History (London: Gay Christian Movement, 1982) and the article "Revolutions, Universals, Categories" in the journal Salmagundi. The latter was eventually reprinted with revisions in Martin Bauml Duberman et al., eds., Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (New York: NAL, 1989). From 1984 to 1986 he served as Director of Graduate Studies for the Yale History Department. In 1987 Boswell helped organize the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale, which by the mid-1990s became the Research Fund for Lesbian and Gay Studies.

In 1988 Boswell published The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance (New York: Pantheon Books). This book was eventually translated into Dutch, French, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. Also in 1988 Boswell became Director of Special Programs in the Humanities (until 1990) and Chair of Medieval Studies at Yale. In 1989 he was appointed as one of thirteen associate editors of the new Journal of the History of Sexuality (University of Chicago Press) and as Advisory Board Member for History of Columbia University Press's Gay and Lesbian series. He was named A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History in 1990, when he began a two-year term as Chairman of the Yale History Department.

In the fall of 1991 Boswell was diagnosed with what his doctors initially thought was Lyme disease, and complications from this ailment led to spinal meningitis. By early 1992 Boswell was diagnosed with Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare and deadly brain disease. It was later discovered that the so-called Lyme disease Boswell had contracted was actually AIDS, and that the spinal meningitis and PML were both AIDS-related.

In the last year of his life, Boswell published Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (New York: Villard Books, 1994). Boswell died of complications from AIDS in New Haven on 24 December 1994. At Yale Commencement in 1995 he was posthumously awarded the Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize in recognition of his instruction of undergraduates.
Title
Guide to the John Boswell Papers
Status
Under Revision
Author
compiled by Todd Gilman
Date
September 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
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