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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 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

Recent and ongoing research

I am 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 monograph, The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1695: A Literary Transformation of History, is out now with 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.

One of my two current book projects, ‘Sexual Knowledge and Print Culture in Early Modern England, 1557-1695’, builds on this interest in the relationship between genre 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.

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 working on a chapter for the forthcoming Routledge International Handbook on Heritage and Gender, along with an accompanying toolkit on gendering museum collections.

Concurrently, I’m also interested in the history of gender nonconformity, and particularly histories which trouble the trans/cis binary. I have co-organised two conferences addressing this theme with Jon Ward (King’s College London), and we are currently establishing a Global Gender Nonconformity research network to take these conversations further. I’m working on developing methodological alternatives to dismissing or erasing the trans capacity of ambiguous historical figures (including a book project which is currently under wraps: I’ll be able to reveal more details soon!) Central to my argument is the need to decolonise the history of gender by understanding genders from non-Western cultures on their own terms: not just by thinking outside of the Western gender binary, but by taking seriously the way that factors such as sexuality, spirituality and social role co-constitute gender in different ways in specific historical and cultural contexts, and exposing the development of the gender and sex binaries as colonialist and eugenicist constructs.

Publications

Monograph

  • The Reputation of Edward II, 1305-1695: A Literary Transformation of History (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020)

Peer-reviewed journal articles

  • ‘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

Articles and book chapters (forthcoming and in preparation)

  • ‘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)
  • ‘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 (under review: forthcoming, Royal Institute of British Architects, 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

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

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.

In 2019, I researched and wrote the content for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories history trail app, and in summer 2021 I gave a series of queer history tours in Leeds city centre based on this research.