Senior Kaya Wilske presents at Mid-Sure 2023

“I think that in today’s world we can learn more by looking back on how our historical events impact the way we act today and there’s a lot of discussion that is going on about gender performance and what is gender, what is sexuality and so looking back on people who were just being themselves can be really impactful and powerful especially to queer youth today and being able to see that there were people hundreds and hundreds of years ago who are just like you can be really remarkable,” Senior Kaya Wilske said. 

Wilske presented her research Pirates and their Privates: An Examination of Emotions in the Performance of Gender through the Golden Age of Piracy (1550-1700) at Michigan State University’s annual symposium, Mid-Sure: The Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences on Wednesday July 26.  

Wilske’s research presentation was an extension of Dr. Ronen Steinberg’s course on the History of Modern Europe. According to Wilske, her research examined theories of emotions, gender theory, and historiography on piracy.  

“We had focused on the theory of emotions, and I essentially combined Women’s and Gender Studies with the History of Emotions and I looked at two really infamous pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read,” Wilske said. 

“Bonny and Read were cool because they were known for dressing in masculine clothing. However, when they would switch back to dressing feminine, their emotions changed drastically and they would use that type of gender performance to use the judicial system against them, forgoing the previous actions of having this go getter attitude that featured some anger when they were dressed up in masculine clothing.” 

According to Dr. Steinberg, Wilske’s research is highly relevant and relatable to society today. 

“First, it shows the connection between the political organization of a specific society – in this case, England in the transition from the early modern period to the modern one, and that society’s gender norms. Kaya’s paper deals with a period when English society was going through profound structural transformations, and it shows how these transformations were expressed in new gender norms. This seems to me highly relevant to the current culture wars in the United States. We, too, are living through a period of social and technological transformations, and it’s interesting to see how these transformations engender debates on gender and sexuality (consider the ongoing political battle around transsexual people, which is not about transsexual people at all, but rather about competing visions of a future social order).” 

Wilske said she hopes people can relate to her research and feel validated about their own gender and sexuality. 

“I think putting out diverse research and research that just shows the diversity of people and intersectionality can really be a powerful tool to show people that even if you think you are alone, you aren’t because look at these pirates from hundreds of years ago who probably thought they were along too and they weren’t. They were dealing with the same things people are dealing with today.” 

“If you are queer and you are young, that can be a very scary time in your life, especially when people say things like ‘oh this idea of being queer is new,” Wilske said. “We know that this isn’t a new idea at all and like I said earlier, people can learn so much by looking back on history and how people were dealing with the same things we are today.” 

Mid-Sure 2023 was the first time Wilske has presented her research at a large-scale event. She said although she was nervous and anxious about presenting in front of a crowd, she is proud of herself for attending Mid-Sure and looks forward to the next opportunity where she can present her research, as she prepares for her senior year and eventually graduate school. 

“I think it was fun to participate in this event because I haven’t had the opportunity to present my research in person before,” she said. “It was great to be able to have that practice and to see my peers get the opportunity at the same time. Even though this event seems marketed towards STEM research, there was still an interest in what the humanities are doing and there’s still a way to connect each other’s disciplines together. 

For more information on Mid-SURE’s annual symposium, click here