James Downs is an associate professor of history at Connecticut College. In 2015-2017, he was awarded a multiyear Mellon New Directions fellowship and was a Visiting Fellow in medical anthropology at Harvard University. His research interests include Civil War and Reconstruction; slavery and emancipation; medicine and public health; and gender and sexuality. He is the author of Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (2016), a history of gay life in the 1970s, and Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (2012), which examines the unexpected medical consequences of emancipation. His research uncovered a smallpox epidemic which raged from 1862 to 1870 as well as the history of the Freedmen's Hospitals, the first system of federal health care. He is a coeditor, with Jennifer Brier and Jennifer Morgan, of Connexions: Histories of Race and Sex in North America (2016). Downs blogs for the Huffington Post and his articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Lancet, among other publications. He is currently working on a history of epidemiology with a focus on the nineteenth-century international cholera epidemics.
This lecture explores the question of same-sex desire and violence among enslaved men in the plantation South from 1607-1865. Drawing on a thin volume of archival records, this lecture also questions how historians evaluate evidence and the methods they employ in writing about the past.