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Introduction

It seems fitting to open this volume by paying tribute to the achievements of Professor Vern L. Bullough, a pioneer in the study of medieval sexuality, who sadly died on June 21, 2006. In fact, it was Bullough’s words that prompted us to hold the conference (Sex: Medieval Perspectives, University of St Andrews, 2004) from which this collection of essays stems. In his article “Sex in History: A Redux,” published in Jacqueline Murray and Konrad Eisenbichler’s edited volume Desire and Discipline: Sex and Sexuality in the Premodern West (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), Bullough recalled his experiences as a historian of sexuality. Following the warning not to publish on the topic until he had achieved success in “a respectable field,” he still faced the embarrassment and disapproval of his colleagues, who introduced him as “a specialist in whores, pimps and queers, who occasionally deigned to do real research.” It was his determination in lobbying for sessions on the history of sexuality at the American Historical Association (AHA) conference, attracting an audience of over a thousand people, that motivated other scholars who were likewise devoted to the study of sexuality to push through a session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. A call to action went up to promote the history of sexuality and it was a call many took up. Over the last few decades, the success of this call has been proven as the topic of sexuality has moved from the margins of academic study to the mainstream of current medieval scholarship. Perhaps some of the best testaments to this success are found in the edited collection of articles by Bullough and the respected historian and legal scholar James Brundage, the Handbook of Medieval Sexuality (New York: Garland, 1996), a volume which immediately illustrated the breadth of sources and arenas open to the historian of medieval sexuality.