Rivalrous Masculinities: Images of the Male Body over Time

This project put together an international network of scholars and students based in German departments to provide the opportunity to build strength in linguistic fluency, cross-cultural literacy, and deep historical knowledge.  Specifically, a series of undergraduate seminars based at Duke met virtually with similar seminars being held at the University of Bamberg and at Humboldt-University of Berlin toward the curation of an exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

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Seven students completed the seminar during Fall 2012. Much of the work of the class involved curating on online exhibition (see "Snapshot" below for more information). The students' final presentations were delivered in a mini-conference setting, giving each student the opportunity to explore a topic in depth and present it to an audience at Duke and at the University of Bamberg. The students also participated in an international scholarly conference hosted at Duke September 20-21, 2013 “New Directions in the Study of Medieval Masculinities.”

Snapshot from the Online Exhibition

Rivalrous Masculinities poster

"Our course and our exhibition are entitled Rivalrous Masculinities, which implies two things: masculinity exists in more than one form, and those multiple forms of masculinity interact with each other, often resulting in conflict. In that conflict, each form of masculinity defines itself in response to the universe of all others and weaves itself into the construct of society. The relationship of masculinities to each other and to their binary - femininity - defines what it means to be a male.

As you 'walk' through the exhibition, we encourage you to reconsider your first impressions of the images. Who can be masculine? What does it mean to be masculine? How do other factors like race and age affect masculinity? Why is a man who has a more feminine appearance seen by many as less masculine rather than more feminine? What stereotypes of femininity occur to you as you look at these images of men?"

The five students in the Fall 2013 seminar began from the work of their earlier counterparts to develop the physical exhibition, entitled “Masculinities: Mainstream to Margins,” which ran at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University from January 11 to July 6, 2014. The students led a wonderful gallery opening, which was excellently attended.

The co-conveners believe that curating an exhibition focusing on the male body was an ideal way to achieve the intellectual goals of teaching undergraduates that masculinity, like femininity, is a social and cultural construction of gender; that constructions of masculinity change over time; and that different forms of masculinity co-exist, often in sharp competition with one another, no less so in the past than today.  The students discovered through this learning experience that representations of the body and gender intersect with political, racial, and religious discourses that have changed in salient ways over time. They also discovered that in these images the body has become a site of identity, a place where struggles for power and control play out.

The project was convened by:


    • Rivalrous Masculinities course poster fall2013
    • Ann Marie Rasmussen thumb
    • Steffen Kaupp thumb
    • Christian Straubhaar
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