University appoints UK’s first professor of LGBTQ+ History

Professor Matt Cook has been appointed to the UK’s first permanently endowed Professorship in LGBTQ+ History, as announced by Mansfield College today.

Cook previously led the Gender and Sexuality Studies MA programme at Birkbeck University, which examined gender and sexuality in historical, social, and literary contexts.

His research highlights social and cultural history, which influences his work advising heritage projects. In 2017, he co-authored the National Trust’s first LGBTQ guidebook Prejudice and Pride, commemorating figures such as Vita Sackville-West.

In 2022, he wrote Queer Beyond London, which looks at English cities beyond the capital to explore lesser told queer stories, from the northern post-industrial heartlands to coastal cities in the South.

From October, Cook will be the first Jonathan Cooper Chair of the History of Sexualities, which honours the late Jonathan Cooper OBE. Cooper was a barrister and LGBTQ+ activist who advocated for the rights of trans people and those living with HIV, alongside raising the issue of conversion therapy.

The Professorship was made possible by a £4.9 million gift to Mansfield College from Arcadia, which aims to “preserve endangered cultural heritage”. 

The post was established in association with Mansfield College, with its principal Helen Mountfield KC calling it “the start of an exciting research cluster exploring the histories and contributions of LGBTQ+ people”.

On Cook’s appointment, Mountfield has said he will be “a great fit in our proudly non-conformist college community which respects, protects and promotes a diverse range of voices and narratives”. She added that Cooper “would have been so honoured and delighted to see his legacy commemorated by this Chair”.

Rob Iliffe, the History Faculty Board Chair, has expressed that the faculty is “thrilled” at Cook’s acceptance of the role, calling him “an outstanding historian” and expects “he will bring his unrivalled experience and energy to his post at Oxford”.

Iliffe also hoped that Cook’s 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”.

Professor Cook has called his appointment “a huge honour”, reflecting on “Jonathan Cooper’s inspirational legacy”. He promises he will be “championing the strong, existing vein of queer historical work at Oxford and fostering debate with LGBTQ scholars, writers, and activists”.