Charles Upchurch

Associate Professor of History
photo of Charles Upchurch

Contact Information

Office Location
Bellamy 452
Resume / CV
Office Hours

Spring 2019 - by appointment for Skype meeting 
Fall 2019 - Mon. 1:30 to 3:00 - Wed. 2:00 to 4:00  and by appointment 

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”: Ending the Death Penalty for Sodomy in Nineteenth-Century 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 humanitarian 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 those coalitions together. 

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 2019 

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

Senior Seminar: British Gender History - 4000-level 

Graduate Seminar: Gender and Sexuality - 6000-level (course not offered again until 2022) 

Spring 2020 

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

England: 1714-1870 - 4000-level 

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


My Recent Teaching (courses appear in a three year rotation, with the exception of my two liberal studies courses, which appear with greater frequency)

2018 / 2019 Academic Year (Research Sabbatical)  

Fall 2017

British Empire – 3000-level (Liberal Studies/Writing Class)

Stuart England – 4000-level 

Graduate Seminar: British Modernity – 6000-level 

Spring 2017

Modern Britain: 1870 to Present – 4000-level 

Senior Seminar: British Gender History – 4000-level capstone class

Graduate Seminar: British Empire – 6000-level 

Spring 2016

British Empire – 3000-level (Liberal Studies/Writing Class)

Gender, Class, and Sexuality in Britain: 1750-1914 – 4000-level

Graduate Seminar: Writing History: Gender/Theory – 6000-level

Spring 2015 

Stuart England – 4000-level 

Modern Britain: 1870 to Present – 4000-level 

Graduate Colloquium: British Economic and Political History – 6000-level  

Fall 2014 

England 1714-1870 – 4000-level 

British Empire – 3000-level (Liberal Studies/Writing Class) 

Graduate Colloquium: British Empire – 6000-level 


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, Atlantic World