Finding (and Losing) Lydia
Lecture by Julia Laite (Birkbeck, University of London) on 5 October, 11.15 CEST
What can one woman’s short life tell us about intimacy and mobility in the early twentieth century world? Sexually ‘deviant’, mobile young women tend to appear in our history books as ciphers; as windows through which we are meant to see bigger and more important pasts. We assign them categories, we create composite portraits, and we tend to expect their stories to conform to type. And it is true that Lydia Harvey’s experience of being trafficked for sexual labour in 1910 appeared to be ripped straight out of a sensational book about ‘white slavery’: she was young, working class, and sexually naïve, and she was coerced and entrapped within prostitution by dastardly foreign pimps. But how might a more intimate, microhistorical portrait of this nobody of a girl help us better understand her history? What might Lydia tell us about the history of girls like her, who were caught up within the sweeping changes—in mobility, in gender, in sexuality, and in globalisation—of the early twentieth century world?
Julia Laite is Professor of Modern History at Birkbeck, University of London. She researches and teaches on the history of women, crime, sexuality and migration in the nineteenth and twentieth century British world. Her critically acclaimed book, The Disappearance of Lydia Harvey (Profile, 2021) won the Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction and the Bert Roth Award for Labour History. She is now beginning a project about her own family history and the troubled history of settler colonialism in Newfoundland.
This lecture is organized as part of the EUI-IHEID joint project Intimate borders: race, gender, and families on the move”