Charles Upchurch

Associate Professor of History
photo of Charles Upchurch

Contact Information

Office Location
Bellamy 452
Resume / CV
Office Hours

Spring 2021 - Mon. 9-10AM, Wed. 12-2PM and by appointment - email for Zoom link.  


Charles Upchurch received his Ph.D. in modern British history from Rutgers University (2003). His research focuses on nineteenth-century British gender, social, and political history, and his teaching fields include modern Britain, the British Empire, modern Europe, gender history, and the history of sexuality. His first book, Before Wilde: Sex Between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform (University of California Press, 2009), explores the ways in which class influenced the interpretation of same-sex desire in the period when the British state first began to police sex between men on a regular basis. It is the first work to call attention to the widespread reporting of court cases related to sex between men in mainstream London newspapers between 1820 and 1870. It also places family reactions at the center of the narrative, in order to better understand how these acts were understood within the broader culture.

Prof. Upchurch's current book project, “Beyond the Law”: The Politics Ending the Death Penalty for Sodomy in Britain, investigates the parliamentary efforts that almost ended the death penalty for sodomy in the early nineteenth century. Arguments were made, in a variety of settings, as to why execution for private consensual sexual conduct was immoral. A leader in the movement to abolish slavery was prominent in these efforts, as were individuals who had family members who were subject to arrest under the laws against sodomy and attempted sodomy. Arguments stemming from utilitarian reform were a part of these debates, but so too were arguments for marital privacy, and the negative impact of the sodomy law on married couples. Rather than providing the origin point for a story of growing tolerance of same-sex desire in the nineteenth century, this research demonstrates that a unique configuration of movements and individuals led to the near-elimination of the death penalty for sodomy in 1841, but that when that effort collapsed, it did so completely. When the death penalty for sodomy was finally eliminated in 1861, the terms under which it was accomplished had little to do with the ethical arguments of a generation before. The book is therefore not an exploration of issues of identity and sexuality, but rather an investigation of how unexpected political alignments formed around ethical issues in the early nineteenth century, and the arguments that brought individuals together to achieve reform. The book is in production, and will be published by Temple University Press in September 2021. 

In addition to his work in the areas of gender and sexuality, Prof. Upchurch is also researching the ways in which working- and middle-class individuals appropriated aspects of the work of Adam Smith for socially progressive ends in the decades before Karl Marx published his most important works. He has previously written on cross-dressers and British society in the 1870s, on methodologies for using new digital tools to conduct historical research, and on the need for academics to reach out to non-academic audiences. His articles have appeared in The Journal of Social History, The Journal of the History of Sexuality, Gender and History, and other scholarly journals. Since 2014 he has served as one of six Distinguished Academic Patrons of LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom.


My Upcoming Teaching Rotation

Fall 2021 

LGBTQ History - 3000-level (Liberal Studies / writing class) 

British Empire – 3000-level (Liberal Studies / writing class)  

Graduate Seminar: Politics, Economics, and Governmentality - 6000-level  

Spring 2022 

Research Leave


Undergraduates wanting to do an honors thesis under my direction should speak to me in advance, and if at all possible take one of my senior seminars before the project begins, or during the first semester of the honors thesis project. If this is not possible, students should take another one of my 4000-level courses, to get an idea of the requirements I set for original research. In recent years, two of my students were selected as winners of the North American Conference on British Studies Undergraduate Essay Contest for work produced in my classes.

Research Interests
Modern Britain, British Empire, Gender and Sexuality, LGBTQ History