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Postcards of female and male impersonators and cross-dressing in Europe and the United States, 1900-1930

Investigator: 
Durba Ghosh, History and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Collaborators: 
Leslie Adelson, German; Mitchell Greenberg, Romance Studies; Tamara Loos, History; Brenda Marston, Cornell University Library; Kristin Roebuck, History
Collection Type: 
Arts & Sciences
Year: 
2018

At the turn of the twentieth century, postcards of men dressed as women and of women dressed as men circulated across Europe and the United States, as performers, musicians, dancers, and actors challenged (and reinforced) gender norms and binaries. This collection draws together postcards held by the Divison of Rare and Manuscript Collections that represent different ways of performing gender. The images, as the one on the right, show bodies in various states of dress, undress, and redress, troubling the ways that clothing expressed a range of identities. The form of the postcard was public in that many were sent through the mail; the images, however, were taken in photography studios in intimate encounters between anonymous photographers and their subjects. The images play with depictions of race, colonialism, desire, and questions related to LGBT history. The collection supports research and teaching for gender and sexuality studies, performance studies, language and literature.