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Before HIV

‘Before HIV’ is a historical research project directed by Dr Richard A. McKay at the University of Cambridge. It is funded by the Wellcome Trust, an independent global charity, as part of the Trust’s Humanities and Social Sciences research fellowship scheme.

The project has been reviewed and approved by the Ethics Committee for the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and the London – City & East Research Ethics Committee, part of the National Research Ethics Service in the UK [REC reference 16/LO/0572].

Research Questions

The Before HIV project is guided by the following research question: 

  • By what processes did ‘the male homosexual’ and same-sex activity emerge as a key focus of concern for efforts to promote sexual health and control venereal disease in the Anglo-American world, from the Second World War to the initial recognition of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, and what were the social, cultural, and medical consequences of this shift?

Follow-on questions include:

  • How did gay men, other men who had sex with other men (MSM), and trans people, as well as health workers, contribute to and respond to these changes in medical knowledge and surveillance? 

  • What can attempts to deal with these issues reveal about the history of public-health surveillance and clinical practice? 

  • Under what circumstances did the earliest co-operative efforts between these often-stigmatised individuals and health workers take place, during a time when homosexual acts were illegal?

  • How were these efforts situated within an era of increased transnational and trans-Atlantic connections, as well as changing laws regulating homosexual activity? 

  • In what ways does this longer history affect our understanding of the initial responses to HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s?