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Niall Ferguson Meets with Students; Harvard Faculty Clarify Stance

Credit: Flickr.

UPDATE 12:13PM: David Armitage, chair of the Harvard history department, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that the department requested a "post in the modern history of gender and sexuality (jointly with Harvard's program in women and gender studies) long before the recent debate arose." He also pointed to the work of Afsaneh Najmabadi, Nancy Cott, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich as an example of Harvard's pre-existing strength in the field of gender and sexuality studies.

Historian Niall Ferguson, in an attempt to blunt criticism of his recent controversial remarks about John Maynard Keynes's sexuality, spoke on Monday to students at a lunchtime panel at the Harvard College Women's Center.

Prof. Ferguson, who is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard, referred to Keynes as "effete" in comments at an investment conference at the beginning of May, and reporters have unearthed questionable statements in some of Prof. Ferguson's books and articles from the 1990s. He later apologized on his blog and wrote an open letter to students and faculty at Harvard, which was published in the Harvard Crimson.

Prof. Ferguson has been criticized by LGBT historians for his remarks. The Governing Board of the Committee on LGBT History, in a statement released yesterday, said his "subsequent attempts to clarify his statement unfortunately show little more understanding of the history of sexuality than his initial comment did."

Monday's lunch was co-sponsored by a number of GLBT organizations on the Harvard campus, including Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, the Harvard College Office of BGLTQ Student Life, the Women's Center, and the Office of Student Life.

None of Ferguson's colleagues in the Harvard history department have publicly criticized him. However, several members of the Harvard history faculty, in emails to HNN, wished to make clear that their public silence should not be taken as a statement of support for Prof. Ferguson's remarks.

HNN contacted thirty-eight members of the history faculty, We received eleven responses. No respondent was willing to directly criticize Prof. Ferguson on or off the record, and the only two historians who commented on the record -- and who were quoted in the original HNN article -- offered qualified support.

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