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Historian to become UK’s first permanently endowed professor in LGBTQ+ history

The Jonathan Cooper chair of the history of sexualities will lead and expand the teaching and study of LGBTQ+ history at the University of Oxford.

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Professor Matt Cook will become the first Jonathan Cooper Chair of the History of Sexualities.

Historian Matt Cook will become the UK’s first permanently endowed professor in LGBTQ+ history.

Professor Cook will take up his post as the Jonathan Cooper chairman of the history of sexualities at Mansfield College at Oxford University in October.

The role has been named in memory of Jonathan Cooper, a human rights lawyer, advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and commentator on issues, such as trans rights and conversion therapy, who died in 2021.

The professorship is the first fully endowed specialist post of its type in the UK, made possible by a £4.9 million gift to Mansfield College from Arcadia.

Prof Cook will lead and expand the teaching and study of LGBTQ+ history at the University of Oxford, after 18 years at Birkbeck College where he led the Gender and Sexuality Studies MA programme.

He is a social and cultural historian with a strong interest in cross-disciplinary work and queer urban, public and community history.

Prof Cook said: “Jonathan Cooper was a passionate advocate for LGBTQ rights, and 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.”

Mansfield College is hoping to attract further philanthropic support to create a new research cluster in LGBTQ+ history at Oxford, including graduate scholarships and a new Career Development Fellowship.

Helen Mountfield, principal of Mansfield College, said: “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.

“I know that Jonathan would have been so honoured and delighted to see his legacy commemorated by this chair, and I know he would have been fascinated by Matt’s work.”

Prof Cook has written extensively on queer urban life, the Aids crisis and queer domesticity, and in 2017 he co-authored the National Trust’s first LGBTQ guidebook, Prejudice And Pride.

Rob Iliffe, chairman of the History Faculty Board, said: “Matt is an outstanding historian who has published a series of influential works on sexuality and gender in 19th- and 20th-century Britain.

“Over the last two decades he has played a key role in making Birkbeck 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.”

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