LGBTQ History: Peace and Conflict Studies Professor Speaks at Cambridge and Oxford Universities

The double engagement at two of the oldest universities in the world was part of the UK’s LGBT History Month

Molly Merryman, Ph.D., associate professor in Kent State University’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies, received a double dose of prestige recently when she was invited to speak at both the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford in England in the same week.

Neil Cooper, director of the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, and a U.K. native, said being invited to speak at both prestigious British universities is a great honor.

“To be invited to speak at one of them is quite an honor, but to speak at two in the space of a week or two is quite remarkable,” Cooper said.

Merryman said her work as the research director for Queen Britain, the United Kingdom’s national LGBT+ museum, is what earned her the first invitation to take part on a panel discussion at the Cambridge Union, a private debating club at the University of Cambridge.

Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Molly Merryman gives a presentation at Oxford University.

“They wanted to do a panel on preserving and maintaining LGBTQ history, and they had heard about me through the work I’ve done with Queen Britain and the Queer Pandemic project,” Merryman said.  

Merryman said Cooper encouraged her to make the trip. “Neil said, ‘You know it’s Cambridge Union, you never say no to them,’” she recalled.

In addition to serving as research director for Queer Britain, Merryman is the lead researcher for the Queer Pandemic project, which includes collecting video interviews remotely with LGBTQ+ people from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Neil Cooper, Ph.D., director of the School of Peace and Conflict Studies.
Neil Cooper

Because she was going to be in the region, Merryman said she reached out to a professional acquaintance who was in residence at Oxford, to see if the two might connect while she was in the area. He in turn asked her to speak at Oxford’s Somerville College’s film club, about her work taking and preserving oral histories.

Both events were in conjunction with February being the UK’s LGBT History Month.

At Oxford, Merryman presented to an audience of students, faculty and staff on the importance of using video when collecting oral histories and the power of having the visual and the audio. 

“When you have the face, you have the expressions, the tone of voice,” she said, noting how both add to the subject’s story. Also, showing the setting where the video was taken often provides valuable historical context for when oral histories are viewed in the future. Details of the setting can provide valuable evidence for future historians, Merryman said.

At Cambridge, Merryman was one of several professionals who took part in a panel discussion on LGBTQ history. Because the Cambridge Union is a famous debating society, the students asked challenging questions, which made for a lively discussion, she said.

“We talked about how important it is to preserve LGBTQ history,” she said, noting how much of that history was never recorded because the lifestyle was criminalized or hidden.

Molly Merryman's presentation is publicized at Oxford University.

“We’re at a point where we have more rights and that’s why I wanted to work with Queer Britain, that’s why I wanted to do these oral history projects, to make sure that in another 100 years, when historians are looking back, they have a very complete history and can talk about this era,” Merryman said. “We talked about how having a history connects to obtaining rights because if you don’t have a history, you don’t have a culture. And if you don’t have a past, you don’t know how to have a future.”

Her work in LGBTQ studies, Merryman said, ties in with peace and conflict studies at Kent State through the broad concept of positive peace.  

“On one hand, there’s looking at peace studies explicitly as the absence of war and conflict,” she said. “But there is also the broader concept of positive peace, which is looking at the conditions you must have for societies to have peace, and that includes equality. So, we have classes on gender, and we look at race, and what hasn’t been looked at as much is sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s the specialization that I provide to our program.”

At Kent State, Merryman was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and was founding director of the Women’s Center. She is a documentarian and filmmaker, oral historian, and cultural historian whose scholarship explores societal marginalization, with a particular focus on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and race.  

She has directed and produced nine documentaries that have been broadcast in the United States and United Kingdom and which have been screened at academic meetings, museums, galleries and universities around the world. Merryman was one of three faculty who started the first LGBTQ Studies program in Ohio. 

POSTED: Wednesday, February 21, 2024 11:11 AM
Updated: Wednesday, February 21, 2024 04:57 PM
Lisa Abraham
Molly Merryman