To Cross the Sexual Borderlands: The History of Sexuality in the Americas

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Peter Sigal

Professor of History

Pete Sigal is professor of History and Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University. His research and teaching focus on the history of sexuality, Latin American history, and the relationship between colonialism and sexual pleasure. He is author of The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture (Duke University Press, 2011), a study on the interaction of writing and sexual representation in sixteenth and seventeenth-century indigenous Nahua societies of Mexico, which won the Erminie Wheeler Voegelin Award from the American Society of Ethnohistory, for the best book published in 2011. He is co-editor, with Zeb Tortorici and the late Neil Whitehead, of Ethnopornography: Sexuality, Colonialism and Archival Knowledge (Duke University Press, 2020), a wide-ranging study of the relationships between the colonial and ethnographic gaze and sexuality throughout the world. He is completing a study of colonialism and sexual desire, “Sustaining Sexual Pleasure: Colonial Erotics, Racialized Sexuality, and Ecstatic Resistance,” in which he examines artistic reimaginings of the history of sexuality by engaging with the works of queer Black, Latinx, and Indigenous artists who work to decolonize desire through acts that Sigal terms “ecstatic resistance.” In such resistance, the artists build an alternative notion of ecstasy that allows us to reconsider the history of sexuality.

His teaching includes an interdisciplinary first year seminar on sexuality around the world, an undergraduate lecture course, Sexual Pleasure in the Modern World that is often touted as one of the "must take" courses at Duke, an undergraduate lecture on Aztecs and Mayans, an advanced seminar on the history of sexuality, open to undergraduate and graduate students, and graduate seminars on various topics and approaches to history.

Sigal has moved from studying sexual desires in indigenous communities to examining the colonial cultural processes that create global concepts of modern sexuality, race, gender, masculinity, and femininity. Sigal also is author of From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire (University of Texas Press, 2000), and editor of Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America (University of Chicago Press, 2003).

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