Past Themes

Since 2008, Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Study has designated a thematic focus area as a point of exploration for events, seminars, fellowships, and more.

You can learn more about our past annual themes by clicking the titles of each below.

Theme year events include a Fall 2023 interdisciplinary in-person seminar titled, GSF 960S: Histories of the Transgender Present, led by Gabriel Rosenberg and GSF Postdoctoral Scholar Zavier Nunn.

This seminar examines the relationship between historicist thinking and transgender identity and activism. Popular and politicised discussions on transgender identity in the United States and Europe are run through with contrasting claims to history. Heated media discussions of trans politics often circulate around the alleged historical novelty of trans persons, with “tipping points” and “social contagion” narratives both suggesting that trans people are a worrying and sudden development unique to our historical moment. Against claims of epochal historical divergence, liberal allies and some activists position transgender inclusion as the fulfillment of a progressive march towards sexual and gender equality, assertions that sometimes depend on a universal category of trans identity and a whiggish historicism. 

However, this seminar attends not only to how these juxtaposed narratives operate in the present, but how they have a longer history of their own. Dualistic epistemologies—stretching back over a hundred years—frame and condition trans personhood, with competing claims to whether trans-ness (articulated variously as ‘transvestism’, ‘inversion’, ‘transsexualism’ and other categories) was an inborn or social phenomena characterising the rise of a recognisable ‘trans subject’ in the Global North. Beyond focusing exclusively on contemporary debates, the seminar explores how discourses around transness materialized and diverged historically within particular social, political, juridical, and medical contexts and it attends to the often multiple and competing categories currently held in relation to transgender identity. Similarly, the seminar examines how these categories articulate with the grand historical problems of race-making, colonization, globalization, and nationalism. Readings will include a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives that illuminate how history, historical narrative and narratology, historicism, historical materialism, temporality, the untimely and anachronistic, memory, commemoration, and witnessing, and archival methods and evidence all inform the politics of transgender identity, activism, and study in our moment and in others.

Biographical Sketch of Dr. Zavier Nunn

Zavier Nunn is the postdoctoral associate on the theme ‘Histories of the Transgender Present’ in the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies Department at Duke University. His PhD dissertation provides an everyday history of trans feminine life in Weimar and Nazi Germany, which de-idealizes the European medico-legal codification of trans identity. Here he also argues that trans women's liminal position within Nazi society reveal state persecution practices concerned with race, labour value, and (sexual) social threat. His second project will historicise modern trans subjectivity, specifically the ontology of an internal gender identity and its epistemological counterpart, the ‘wrong body narrative’. Across his research, he uses micro-historical methods to unpick how macro systems and institutions are stitched together, and how affects circulate on a personal and collective level. His work is published in Past & Present and forthcoming in Gender & History and German History.

Theme Events
Fall 2023: Kadji Amin Talk - October 4. 2023
“The Respectability Politics of Gender Identity, A History

Kadji Amin is Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University and a 2023-4 fellow at the Cornell Society of Fellows. Amin is a materialist theorist of gender and sexuality. His research brings empirical scholarship on the history of sexuality to bear on trans and queer theory. Amin’s book, Disturbing AttachmentsGenet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History (Duke 2017) won an Honorable Mention for best book in LGBT studies form the GL/Q Caucus of the Modern Language Association. He is currently at work on a second book titled, “Trans Materialism without Gender Identity.”

On October 4th, Duke GSF hosted Professor Amin for a presentation in the East Duke Parlors, which aimed to historicize the political and social conditions used to create respectable and disreputable transgender identities. Amin’s research traces the origins of “gender identity” to 1920s Berlin, Germany, and follows the movement of this discourse into the United States towards the 1960s and present day. Read more or watch below.

Spring 2024: Beans Velocci Talk - February 1, 2024

"The Normal Woman: On the Irrelevance of the Body to Sex in Early Twentieth-Century Gynecology"

Beans Velocci is a historian of sex, science, and classification, and an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Sociology of Science and Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Their work uses queer, trans, and feminist methods to interrogate how classification systems become regarded as biological truths, primarily in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States. Their first book, "Binary Logic: The Power of Incoherence in American Sex Science" is currently under review with Duke University Press. It is a prehistory of cisness that looks at how sex emerged as a privileged way of sorting bodies not despite but because of its incoherence. They have also published work in Transgender Studies Quarterly, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, the American Naturalist, the Washington Post, and Avidly. Beans' work has received multiple awards, including Yale University's George Washington Egleston Historical Prize, the OAH John D'Emilio LGBTQ History Dissertation Award, and the Margaret Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize.

Theme year events included a fall 2022 interdisciplinary in-person seminar composed of graduate students, research fellows, and Duke and UNC faculty members titled, GSF 960S: Feminist Theory and Imperialism. 

The seminar was designed and taught by Drs. Frances Hasso (GSF, History, Sociology) and Anna Krylova (History, GSF). Its participants examined historically grounded concepts to understand the institutional, material, and cultural relationships between Western feminist theory and imperialism in its modern historical and contemporary modalities. The seminar addressed cultural, economic and intellectual imperialism, which is often the focus of feminist and sexual theorization and critique in many parts of the world, as well as leftist movements as sites of anti-imperialist feminist and sexual theorizing and critique. It focused on a few cultural case studies where feminist theory and activism align with Western imperialist and colonialist agendas, as well as the funding institutions that encourage such alignment. The seminar syllabus is available here

The seminar culminated on November 30, 2022, with an open in-person and live-streamed Feminist Theory and Imperialism Conference that included guest presentations by Elena Gapova, Xueping Zhong, Maya Mikdashi, Serene J. Khader, and Françoise Vergès, with commentaries on the theme by Frances Hasso and Anna Krylova.


9 red covered people in an abstract background


Click here for more information on the conference and the YouTube recording

Dr. Paniz Musawi, who was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in GSF for the theme year, organized a conference in February 2023 titled "Visual arts in and on Afghanistan: political violence, war and the question of futurity".

Any questions about the seminar or theme year should be directed to Frances Hasso and Anna Krylova at and

The theme for 2021-22 centers on the Erotics of Race and Coloniality, led by GSF professor Jennifer Nash.  This is an interdisciplinary exploration of the relationship among race, coloniality and sexuality.  Over the course of the year, we will explore scholarly and creative work that explores pornography, erotic labor, and sex work; Black queer and trans studies; queer of color critique; colonial and postcolonial sexual knowledge and archives; sex law, sexual regulation, and the state; and feminist engagements with racial erotics. Taken together, this work asks how we might understand racial and colonial projects differently (or anew) when we consider them as erotic and sexual projects? And how might this work help us imagine different kinds of sexual futures?

The theme for 2019-21 centers on the Revaluing Care in the Global Economy (RCGE) project, led by GSF director Jocelyn Olcott. RCGE is an international, interdisciplinary research network focused on interrogating the underlying ethics and beliefs that have fostered the widespread undervaluing of the care labors required for the survival of what we purportedly hold most dear:  our families, communities, cultures, and environments. This project rests on two basic principles: first, that social, cultural, and ecological care are deeply imbricate; second, that societies where liberal ideologies have become commonsensical — particularly exemplified by faith in technological, market-based, and state-sponsored solutions — can learn from societies where liberalism has been treated with greater suspicion. Our research network focuses on three main areas: metrics, governance, and social practice. 

In Fall 2019, Professors Olcott and Ara Wilson co-led a seminar, Rethinking Care in the Global Economy, that included graduate students, postdocs, visiting scholars, and faculty from all over the world. Professor Olcott and the two postdocs for 2019-20, Ingrid Meintjes and Riikka Prattes, co-lead a Bass Connections team of ten undergraduates and four graduate students from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines. Although a conference planned for April 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19, students organized and executed a series of online workshops around the theme “Care in the Time of COVID-19” that they are editing into a podcasts. The COVID-19 pandemic has accomplished what decades of feminist activism and scholarship could not: draw nearly universal attention to the vast amounts of paid and unpaid labor required simply to sustain ourselves and our planet.

For 2020-21, as part of a Mellon-supported Humanities Unbounded lab, we will focus on four specific topical questions:  carceral care, food security, what constitutes “essential work” and who are essential workers,” and the renewed role of mutual-aid organizations and other intentional communities. This lab, co-convened by Professors Olcott and Jessica Namakkal, will also include two postdocs, Riikka Prattes (who has stayed on for a second year) and Farren Yero, as well as a visiting scholar, Meghan McDowell, from Winston-Salem State University.

The robust feminist scholarship on care and carework highlights three important lessons. First, we need solutions that do not rely on commodification, ecological predation, and social inequities. Even universal childcare programs often reinscribe racial and gender patterns, and they are unavailable in the current crisis. Second, the nature of this pandemic has offered a stark reminder of the costs of policing too chauvinistically the boundaries around our communities of care. A coronavirus, much like a climate crisis, impacts people differentially but ultimately does not respect national borders or status differences or family allegiances. Finally, addressing both the short- and long-term aspects of crisis of care demands a wholesale reconsideration of how we measure economic wellbeing, devising strategies to measure sustainability and caretaking rather than simply productivity and efficiency.

The Transgender Studies & Humanities initiative considers how the emerging field of Transgender Studies has implications for Gender Studies and for the Humanities in general. The initiative includes pedagogical components, post-doctoral fellowships, and events. It was motivated by these questions:

  1. How does transgender studies reshape the structuring assumptions of humanistic inquiry?
  2. What are the potential contributions of critical transgender studies—meaning, in general terms, of a humanities approach to trans* existence—outside of the academy, such as to healthcare or advocacy?

Funded by the Humanities Futures Initiative at the Franklin Humanities Institute. Project Directors: Ara Wilson & Gabriel Rosenberg. Project assistant, 2017-18: Cole Rizki.

Post-doctoral Fellows, 2017-2018

Nick Clarkson, Assistant Professor, New College, Florida

Cameron Awkward-Rich, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Additional Events:

Fall 2018

Concluding event of the "Transgender Studies and the Humanities" Series:
Julian Gill-Peterson (English, University of Pittsburgh), seminar on their forthcoming book, Histories of the Transgender Child, with pre-circulated readings.
Tuesday, October 16, 1:00pm-3:00pm in the East Duke parlors.

Spring 2018

Susan Stryker (University of Arizona), Annual Queer Theory Lecture
February 8 2018

Cameron Awkward-Rich (GSF post-doctoral fellow), lecture

Fall 2017

Dr. Eric Plemons, (University of Arizona)
Tuesday Sept. 5th, "Trans Medicine & the Making of a Woman"
Wednesday September 6th, 1:30 PM, Duke Medical Center (invitational workshop), Dr. Eric Plemons presentation on Gender Clinics. Co-sponsored with the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care Clinic

Nick Clarkson, (GSF post-doctoral fellow), on contemporary transgender citizenship in a context of U.S. surveillance and security policy.

Trangender Studies: Curriculum and Pedagogy

Transgender Studies Curriculum

A list of courses in transgender studies in US and Canadian schools, assembled by Jeremy Gottlieb (Duke '18), with sample syllabi will be available soon.


Training in Trans* inclusion in the classroom, April 2017.
Panel & workshop on integrating transgender studies in the Gender Studies Curriculum, April 2017

Courses & Programs

Spring 2018:

GSF or SXL 89s01: First Year Seminar: Trans Identities & Activism. Prof. Nick Clarkson
Open to first year students. Transgender politics seem to be everywhere, but what does this media attention mean for lived gender self-determination and liberation? Consider the visibility of trans celebrities such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner; the success of Amazon’s streaming TV series Transparent; and proposals to restrict bathroom usage for trans people. This class rethinks these cultural flash-points through a survey of topics central to contemporary trans identity and activism: media representations of trans lives; the politics of trans medical care; gender policing in public space; the relationship between trans liberation and feminist activism; and many other issues.

GSF 290s.05 or SXL 290s.02 (WF 11:45AM-01:00PM): Reading Trans. Prof. C. Awkward-Rich
From newspaper chronicles of 19th century gender benders to the present-day explosion of transgender poetry, our personal, cultural, and political understandings of gender variance have long been tied to particular modes of text-based representation. Through sustained engagement with such creative work, as well as background reading in trans history and theory, this course will offer a literary history of “trans.” Although we will pull material from across time and genre, we will focus on contemporary writers like Janet Mock and Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. Together, we will ask questions about authorship; the relationship between social conditions and representational strategies; the possibilities and limitations of different genres; and, ultimately, what makes literature (and/or literary analysis) trans.

Fall 2017:
Transgender cinema. Crosslisted with Literature.

Fall 2016: Transgender Studies & Humanities project supported Introduction to Transgender Studies, (Lit 190S-04, WST, SXL). Instructor: Cole Rizki. 

Duke Data+ undergraduate tream
Summer 2016, Duke Data+ undergraduate team, a summer project analyzing data from the 2008-09 National Transgender Discrimination Survey in the Data+ program hosted by iiD at Duke University. A video description can be found here.
Coordinated by Kim Lamm

Theme year Post-doctoral fellow, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan (U-Mass Amherst), author of Blue Talk and Love (2015).
Graduate seminar: WST 960 BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT AND PRACTICE – Kimberly Lamm.

This course will engage with the texts that have defined black feminist thought (both in the United States and across the African diaspora) and then highlight their connections to black women’s artistic productions in literature, visual art, and film. An important focus of this course will be on tracing the “black feminist imagination,” which entails analyzing how literary and visual artists have imaginatively translated black women’s histories (in the sense of long arcs and legacies but also quotidian realities) into aesthetic forms and creative practices. Themes we will be pursuing include: the figurations of gender and sexuality within racial domination and violence (with a particular focus on Hortense Spillers’ concept of “ungendering”); the psychic legacies of human commodification and enslavement; race, reproduction, and reproductive labor; imagining and actualizing intra-and inter-subjectivity; the figure of the black girl; visuality, beauty, adornment, and display. Attending to the black feminist imagination in relationship to this constellation of themes will be an opportunity to think historically about the ways in which black women have worked with linguistic and visual materials to create subjective forms that resist domination and expand narrow definitions of race, gender, and sexuality. Work by the following visual and literary artists will be included: Gwendolyn Brooks, Cheryl Clarke, Julie Dash, Zanele Muholi, Harryette Mullen, Wangechi Mutu, M. NourbeSe Philip, Tracey Rose, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems.

Coordinated by Ranjana Khana

In our 2014-2015 theme, we came to grips with the world, or perhaps more appropriately, the worlds of psychoanalysis, how it came into formation at a particular moment of empire and of state formation, how it spread, became distinct in its formation, how it erred from its original path but was informed by it, and how we understand those questions through a lens of sexual difference. Reaching back and forward we will address its various functions and foreclosures, its potentialities and its limitations.

For the 2013-14 academic year the theme was Gender and Science. The scholarship on gender and science began by arguing that the ideal of dispassionate objectivity masked the ways that social judgments shaped actual scientific practice and by showing how hidden assumptions about gender could be found in seemingly neutral laboratory or theoretical work. Work in the field of feminist science studies has expanded to ask about the interaction of social power in depictions of the natural world and technological applications. These studies range from ethnographic case studies of medical laboratories to philosophical reflections on human/animal relationships.

The linked seminar, WS 960 Feminist Science Studies, hosted a series of guest lectures, including two by next year’s post-doctoral fellows in GSF, Stephanie Clare (Rutgers University) and Martha Kenney  (UC-Santa Cruz), and faculty from Philosophy, cultural anthropology, English, as well as outside speakers. 

Coordinated by Frances Hasso

The theme for 2012-13 is Feminism and Freedom. Professor Frances Hasso will be teaching a graduate/post-graduate seminar on Feminism and Freedom that will be offered in Fall 2012.

We conceived the theme topic in response to the recent uprising in North Africa and West Asia, but are interested in an array of investigations, including how feminism has fought for various forms of freedom, scrutinized its historical emergence, and deployed the term in a variety of discursive contexts. Also relevant are anti-feminist dimensions of freedom projects. The focus will be on transnational, intersectional, and interdisciplinary research and film that take[s]an innovative approach to understanding the social, political, economic, and cultural implications of freedom. We will also host two post-doctoral fellows, working under the rubric of Feminism and Freedom, who will also be participating in the seminar.

Graduate seminar: WST 960. Frances Hasso

We are interested to understand how some of the major interventions of the 1970's--for example, feminist art and film practices, marxist and radical feminism, eco-feminism, lesbian separatism, human and civil rights discourse, cold war divisions and non-aligned movements, and postcolonial internationalism---continue to have an impact on feminist thought, offer important interventions into contemporary questions, or map the futures of feminism.

Graduate seminar: WST 960 1970s Feminism. Jolie Olcott (History) and Ara Wilson (GSF)

Postdocs: Victoria Hesford & Stephanie Gilmore

Coordinated by Kathy Rudy

The 2010-11 annual theme is Animals and the Question of Species and will revolve around three major points:

  • new theoretical formulations in continental philosophy around the question of human exceptionalism;
  • the human/animal boundary and connection, and the ethics, politics, and advocacy that flow from those; and
  • the role of gender in developing a greater understanding of nonhuman animals.

Graduate seminar: WST 960 Kathy Rudy

Coordinated by Tina Campt

Graduate seminar: WST 960 Tina Campt 

Postdoc: Kim Lamm & Lindsay Green-Simms

Coordinated by Ara Wilson

Post-doctoral fellows: Elisabeth Engebretsen, Svati Shah
Graduate seminar: WST 960 Transnational Sexuality Studies.
Undergrad course: Introduction to Sexuality Studies
Major Event: Workshop on India, Sexuality & Archives.

This theme year was linked with what was then a program in the study of sexualities which has now been relaunched as a minor.