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The Afterlife of Anthony Comstock

Abortion, Bodily Autonomy, and Obscenity (1873 - 2023)

“The Afterlife of Anthony Comstock” connects the Comstock Act of 1873 with current attacks on bodily autonomy and freedom. We examine what and who Anthony Comstock and his contemporary allies sought to control (by restricting contraception and abortion, policing sex work and obscenity, and penalizing queer and trans people) and discuss how these intersections are re-emerging. Are we in the midst of a Comstockian resurrection, or has he never left us?

Kendra Albert, Gillian Frank, Jules Gill-Peterson, Melissa Gira Grant, and Whitney Strub hold a virtual panel, followed by a discussion, and a preview of ComstockCon, a Spring 2024 convening inspired by the fallout from the Dobbs decision and the revival of the 150-year-old Comstock Act, threatening everyone’s bodily autonomy. To put Anthony Comstock back in his grave for good will require all of us.

ComstockCon will be hosted by the Initiative for a Representative First Amendment at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and co-organized by Kendra Albert and Melissa Gira Grant. 

Panel bios:

Gillian Frank 
Gillian Frank is a historian of sexuality and religion and a visiting affiliate fellow at Princeton University's Center for Culture, Society and Religion. He is also a full time lecturer at Stevens Institute of Technology. Frank is the author of numerous academic articles on the histories of sexuality, gender and religion (which have appeared in venues like the Journal of the History of Sexuality, American Jewish History, and Gender and History) and public facing scholarship (with bylines in publications including The Washington Post, Time, Jezebel and Slate). He is co-editor of Devotions and Desires: Histories of Sexuality and Religion in the 20th Century United States (UNC Press: 2018). Frank is currently at work on a manuscript called A Sacred Choice: Liberal Religion and the Struggle for Abortion Before Roe v Wade (forthcoming UNC Press). You can listen to his podcast Sexing History, which explores how the history of sexuality shapes our present, wherever you stream your shows.

Jules Gill-Peterson
Jules Gill-Peterson is an associate professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. She is the author of Histories of the Transgender Child (2018) and her next book, A Short History of Trans Misogyny (2024), will be published in January.

Whitney Strub
Whitney Strub is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark, where he co-directs the Queer Newark Oral History Project. He is the author of Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right (2011) and Obscenity Rules: Roth v. United States and the Long Struggle over Sexual Expression (2013), and editor of several books including the forthcoming Queer Newark: Stories of Resistance, Love, and Community (2024). A longtime member of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Abolish ICE-New York/New Jersey coalition, his work has also appeared in Radical History Review, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Jacobin, The Nation, Physique Pictorial, and elsewhere.

Kendra Albert
Kendra Albert is a clinical instructor at the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School, and a lecturer in the Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality at Harvard University. They direct the Initiative for a Representative First Amendment. Their work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. Kendra serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Tor Project, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Massachusetts. 

Melissa Gira Grant
Melissa Gira Grant is a staff writer at The New Republic and the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso). She is at work on her next book, A Woman Is Against the Law: Sex, Race, and the Limits of Justice in America (forthcoming from Little, Brown and Company).



The transcript of the recorded event is available for download here.

Past Event
Oct 31, 2023
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM ET