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School of English and Drama

Dr Kit Heyam

Kit

Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Email: k.heyam@qmul.ac.uk
Website: https://kitheyam.com
Twitter: @krheyam

Profile

I grew up in Bolton and studied for my BA and MPhil at Homerton College, Cambridge. In 2012 I returned to the north to study for my PhD at the University of Leeds, which I completed part-time while working various jobs and volunteering for the charity York LGBT History Month. My thesis, a study of how Edward II got his queer reputation, formed the basis of my first monograph, The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1697: A Literary Transformation of History (Amsterdam University Press, 2020). After a series of fixed-term research and lecturing posts at Newcastle, Plymouth, King’s College London and Northumbria, I joined QMUL in 2021 for a 12-month post as Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Studies. My latest book is Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender (Basic Books UK/Seal Press, 2022).

My pronouns are they/them or he/him.

Research

Research Interests:

  • Queer/transgressive genders and sexualities
  • Queer inclusivity in heritage practice
  • Early modern print culture and the history of the book

I’m an interdisciplinary scholar whose work focuses on developing new methodological approaches to transgressive gender and sexuality in historical literature and culture, both in academic research and in curatorial practice.  I have taken this interest in two key directions: exploring how academic and curatorial practice might creatively respond to contemporary political arguments which seek to delegitimise trans experience by denying its historicity, and thinking about the construction of sexuality and sexual knowledge as a literary process rooted in genre and the literary marketplace.

My first book, The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1695: A Literary Transformation of History, was published in 2020 by Amsterdam University Press (click here to download the table of contents and introduction). This book uses research into the development of Edward II’s queer reputation to reassess the relationship between literature and history as genres and as disciplinary methodology.

My second book, Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender, was published in 2022 by Basic Books in the UK and Seal Press in North America. Before We Were Trans is a global history of gender nonconformity which proposes a new, expansive approach to trans history rooted in an ethics of care, community and anti-racism.

My work on queer and trans histories has been developed in collaboration with museums and other heritage organisations. In 2018-19, I was a research fellow on the international collaborative AHRC-funded project ‘Gendering Interpretations’, working with the V&A Museum (London) and Vasa Museet (Stockholm) to find new ways of uncovering the gendered histories of material objects and communicating these histories within the museum. I continue to collaborate with James Daybell (University of Plymouth), the project’s Principal Investigator, and we are currently rolling out a toolkit for museum and heritage staff on Gendering the Museum, working with the National Trust property Saltram House. I’m also the community lead on a new project revealing hidden stories of gender at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – see the ‘Public engagement’ tab for more details.

My next academic book project, ‘Sexual Knowledge and Print Culture in Early Modern England, 1557-1695’, builds on my interests in the relationship between genre, gender and sexuality. The project argues that early modern sexual knowledge was shaped by two aspects of print and literary culture: the conventions of popular genre (medical books, travel writing, chronicles, religious texts and romances), and the process of book production, including the considerable agency of the publisher as both a collaborative and an autonomous actor.

Publications

Before We Were TransBooks

  • Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender (Basic Books UK / Seal Press, 2022)
  • The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1695: A Literary Transformation of History (Amsterdam University Press, 2020)

Articles and book chapters (published)

  • ‘Former Guildford Hotel, Leeds’, ‘Former Knockaloe Internment Camp, Isle of Man’, and ‘Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York’, in Queer Spaces, ed. by Adam Nathaniel Furman and Joshua Mardell (London: Royal Institute of British Architects, 2022)
  • ‘Performing historical monarchs in early modern England: beyond the history play’, Royal Studies Journal, Special Issue: ‘Performing Royal Power in Premodern Europe’ (2021)
  • James Daybell, Kit Heyam, Svante Norrhem and Emma Severinsson, ‘Gendering Objects at the V&A and Vasa Museums’, Museum International: Special Issue, ‘Museums and Gender’ (2020) DOI: 10.1080/13500775.2020.1779465
  • ‘Gender nonconformity and military internment: curating the Knockaloe slides’, Critical Military Studies: Special Issue, ‘Curating Conflict’ (2019) DOI:10.1080/23337486.2019.1651045
  • ‘Paratexts and pornographic potential in seventeenth-century anatomy books’, The Seventeenth Century (2018) DOI:10.1080/0268117X.2018.1506355

Edited volumes (forthcoming)

Volume editor for 1400-1800 volume, A Cultural History of Gender, ed. by Susan Broomhall (forthcoming, Bloomsbury, 2025)

Articles and book chapters (forthcoming)

  • ‘Negotiating sexual content in vernacular medical books: writers, printers, readers’, in Rewriting Medicine, ed. by Clark Lawlor, Ashleigh Blackwood and Leigh Wetherall Dickson (under review, forthcoming 2022)
  • James Daybell and Kit Heyam, ‘Gendering Material Objects in Heritage Practice’, in The Routledge International Handbook on Heritage and Gender, ed. by Jenna C. Ashton (forthcoming, 2023)

Public Engagement

La Chevaliere d’Eon - Kit HeyamI have appeared as a guest expert in queer history on BBC2, Radio New Zealand, and local TV and radio. I also work as a freelance heritage practitioner and consultant, helping heritage organisations to find new and more diverse stories in their collections, and to curate trans histories and identities in an inclusive way. Most recently, in 2022 I co-led the project ‘Sword of D’Eon: trans history at the Royal Armouries’, working with local trans communities to co-produce a zine inspired by a sword in the Armouries collection commissioned by eighteenth-century trans spy La Chevaliere d’Eon. For more details on the project and a link to the zine, click here.

In 2023, I’ll be Community Project Lead on a new community exhibition focused around hidden stories of gender in the Royal Armouries collection.

Together with Helen Graham (University of Leeds), I originated the #RainbowPlaques project, and I coordinate it today. #RainbowPlaques workshops invite participants to make temporary cardboard plaques marking spaces significant to queer history – whether it’s somewhere with wider significance (like the site of the UK’s first ever national trans conference) or somewhere personally important (like the place where they came out to their mum). The project empowers ordinary people to determine which histories are worth recording, and to create their own forms of commemoration – and the temporary displays of plaques make the queer history of a city visible. I’ve been commissioned to run #RainbowPlaques workshops by West Yorkshire Queer Stories, the Centre for Live Art Yorkshire, and the V&A Museum. The template is free for everyone, and you can download it from my personal website.

See my personal website for full details of my heritage work and media experience.

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