Welcome to the companion website for the research network Historicizing Consent: What did it mean to agree in the late medieval and early modern world? The network first met for an exploratory seminar in April 2022, and continues in academic year 2022/2023.
Executive Summary: Does consent have a history? A growing literature recognizes the pervasive discourses around consent in different realms of late medieval and early modern life: sex, marriage, religious conversion, labor, colonization, and contract law. But no existing scholarship has yet examined the general theme of consent across all of these areas. Indeed, it has been difficult to explain the prevalence of apparently egalitarian concerns for freely given consent in this era, when a stable social hierarchy was a much- sought after ideal. This Radcliffe exploratory seminar program on “Historicizing Consent” created an international, interdisciplinary scholarly network and defined a new research agenda for historians, literary scholars, legal scholars, theologians, and scholars of gender and sexuality studies, working on Europe and the Americas. The seminar rallied a dispersed group of scholars, many of whom have—within their discrete topics of inquiry—analyzed consent as a hegemonic concept that imposed order as much as it liberated individual choice. Meanwhile, emerging critiques of the concept of consent in present-day political and legal discussions, for instance around prosecutions of sexual assault, have similarly highlighted where consent falls short of its emancipatory promise. Such critiques in turn invite scholars to denaturalize the notion of consent and investigate its multiple uses and meanings in the past. We do so by observing the past and examining its relevance to the present.
Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs, and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor
Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University
Affiliated Faculty Member Harvard Law School
Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in History
The School of History, Classics & Archaeology, The University of Edinburgh