Field: United States; Advisor: Blake; Year: 2012
Benjamin Serby is a doctoral student focusing on US intellectual and political history since 1945. He grew up in the New York City area, and received his BA with highest honors from Brandeis University in 2010. His undergraduate thesis, "The Scientific Ideologist: Lewis Feuer and the Marxist Roots of Neoconservatism," explored the changing politics of the "New York intellectuals" from the Great Depression through the 1970s. Since that time, his research interests have grown to include the history of American radicalism; the relationship between social movements and social theory; psychoanalysis; critical theory; and the history of New York City.
Benjamin's dissertation, "Gay Liberation and the Politics of the Self in Postwar America," situates the gay liberation movement in the United States in the context of the history of ideas about the self, society, and the relationship between both in the three decades after the Second World War. In so doing, it demonstrates how broad cultural and political currents shaped the identities and solidarities underpinning gay politics, and how a collective demand for “liberation” reflected widely shared anxieties about psychological domination, personal autonomy, and mass culture. Combining the approaches of social history, literary criticism, reception history, and intellectual biography, "Gay Liberation and the Politics of the Self" brings LGBT history into conversation with the historiographies of American social thought and of social movements. It draws from extensive archival research into key activists, and from close readings of the alternative newspapers and mass-market paperback books in which their ideas were expressed, debated, and disseminated. Benjamin's research demonstrates the extent to which gay liberationists drew on midcentury social criticism, the counterculture, and the radical politics of the 1960s—above all, second-wave feminism, the new left, and Black Power--in a context of material prosperity and global decolonization.
M.A.: Department of History, Columbia University, 2014