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John Boswell papers

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.

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.


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.

46 Linear Feet (95 boxes)
Related Names
Boswell, John, 1947-1994
Language of Materials