Robert Aldrich’s knowledge of gay history was already expansive when a publisher asked him to edit an ambitious new work on the topic a few years back.

Head of history at the University of Sydney, Aldrich already had volumes on the Mediterranean’s gay past and gay culture in Australia to his name.

But the two-year project that resulted in the recently released Gay Life And Culture contained some surprises.

A few examples surprised me a little bit, Aldrich told Sydney Star Observer.

I wasn’t aware of how developed a same-sex culture had existed in Japan in the era of the shoguns and the samurai. That was probably one of the most developed and accepted and even celebrated eras of same-sex relationships in world history.

Billed as a world history, Gay Life And Culture‘s subject matter ranges from homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome to lesbians in medieval Europe via same-sex culture in Asia and the modern rights struggle.

I think it’s certainly one of the books that has the broadest coverage, not just of Europe or America or Australia but also of other places around the world, Aldrich said.

The book’s lavish illustrations and a contributors’ list that includes academics from Australia, Europe and North America add to its reach.

While the 400-page effort does not contain a stand-alone chapter on Australian gay life, Aldrich devoted much of his introduction to gay history here.

Australia does provide an interesting example, everything from non-Western homosexuality in Aboriginal cultures through situational homosexuality in a penal colony to the development of gay and lesbian subcultures, he said.

Gay Life And Culture is set for publication in at least seven languages, but Aldrich is cautious about taking credit for the definitive work on gay and lesbian history.

It is global in its perspective but I think a lot of research remains to be done and I hope some young things out there will do it.

Gay Life And Culture is published by Thames & Hudson.

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