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UK’s first professor of LGBTQ+ history appointed at Mansfield College

The UK’s first professor of LGBTQ+ history has been appointed by Mansfield College. Renowned historian, Professor Matt Cook, will become the first Jonathan Cooper Chair of the History of Sexualities. 

This appointment was made possible by a £4.9 million gift to Mansfield College from Arcadia. It is the UK’s first permanently endowed Professorship in LGBTQ+ History and will be in association with the Faculty of History at the University. 

Both parties are seeking to build on the donation to attract further philanthropic support to facilitate the creation of a new Research Cluster in LGBTQ+ history at Oxford. This would  include graduate scholarships and a new Career Development Fellowship.

The aim of this project is to ensure that “recognising, recording, and understanding LGBTQ+ stories and lives becomes a central part of university history teaching and research, in Oxford and internationally.”

Professor Cook will take up his post in October after 18 years at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he led the Gender and Sexuality Studies MA programme, and directed the Raphael Samuel History Centre. 

Cook is a social and cultural historian with a strong interest in cross-disciplinary work and queer urban, public and community history. In 2017, Professor Cook co-authored the National Trust’s first LGBTQ guidebook, Prejudice and Pride. He has written extensively on queer urban life, the AIDS crisis and queer domesticity, and his most recent book, Queer Beyond London (2022), arose out of a collaborative project anchored in LGBTQ+ community and local history.

The Chair has been named in honour of the late Jonathan Cooper OBE, barrister and human rights campaigner, and a fierce advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, who passed away in 2021. In 2011 he established the Human Dignity Trust, a charity which aims to challenge laws that persecute LGBTQ+ people globally. 

Cooper was also involved in fighting the mistreatment of asylum seekers in Greece and worked with civil servants on the 1998 Human Rights Act. He was made OBE in 2007 for his services to human rights. Cooper was a prolific commentator on issues such as trans rights, conversion therapy and the rights of people living with HIV. 

Mansfield College Principal, Helen Mountfield KC, commenting on the announcement, said: 

“I know that Jonathan would have been so honoured and delighted to see his legacy commemorated by this Chair.”

Mountfield added that “Mansfield College is delighted to welcome Professor Matt Cook as the inaugural Jonathan Cooper Chair of the History of Sexualities. Matt will be a great fit in our proudly non-conformist college community which respects, protects and promotes a diverse range of voices and narratives.”

Rob Iliffe, History Faculty Board Chair, said the faculty is “thrilled” about the new Professorship. “Matt is an outstanding historian who has published a series of influential works on sexuality and gender in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain. Over the last two decades he has played a key role in making Birkbeck [College] a major centre for the study of queer history, and he will bring his unrivalled experience and energy to his post at Oxford.

“His presence will be a source of inspiration to students and colleagues alike, and it will enhance Oxford’s reputation as a leader in the field of LGBTQ history. The Faculty is very grateful to Arcadia, for their exceptional generosity in endowing a post that serves as a fitting tribute to the life and work of Jonathan Cooper.”

Commenting on his appointment, Professor Cook said: “It’s a huge honour to take up this new professorship in his name. I will be working hard to enhance our understanding of the LGBTQ past and to show how these histories matter now. I will be championing the strong, existing vein of queer historical work at Oxford and fostering debate with LGBTQ scholars, writers, and activists from around the world. 

“I’m tremendously excited to have this opportunity to help enlarge Oxford’s reputation for cutting edge work in this burgeoning field; I see it as a way of honouring and furthering Jonathan Cooper’s inspirational legacy.”

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