Sites on the History and Literature of Western Hierarchical Relationships

This site provides information about fiction and nonfiction focussing on historical hierarchical relationships in the West – that is to say, relationships between people of different status or rank. Relationships based on platonic feelings and relationships based on sexual attraction are both discussed at this site.

This directory is maintained by Dusk Peterson. Fiction by Dusk Peterson is available, including fiction about hierarchical relationships. More sites on the literature and history of friendship, romance, romantic friendship, and sexuality are available at this domain.

"Hierarchical Topical Index. (Of course it's hierarchical. It's a guy thing.)"
Men's Issues Page

Sections below:

* Historical Documents
* Fiction
* Contact Information


Before 1700, most Western relationships, whether platonic or sexual, were based on hierarchy. In the eighteenth century, societal changes occurred that brought about the rise of egalitarian relationships, both amongst people who had platonic relationships with each other and amongst men who had sexual relationships with each other. Male/female sexual relationships would remain primarily hierarchical until the twentieth century.

As far as the history of same-sex attraction is concerned, its hierarchical aspects are documented at three gay history sites. Paul Halsall's People with a History provides links to historical images and texts, while The History of Male Love showcases historical art. Rictor Norton's Gay History and Literature is primarily made up of essays, bibliographies, and links, but the site is worth noting here because the editor is interested in the topic of hierarchy – for example, the site includes an essay on Class-based Erotics, which explores the role of class hierarchy in male/male, male/female, and female/female sexual relationships.

As Paul Halsall has pointed out, the history of heterosexuality remains to be written. However, sites devoted to women's history usually provide documents showing women's places in hierarchies of the past.

Likewise, the history of friendship has been much neglected: at present, no site collects historical texts on friendship. My essay on scholarship about friendship ends with links to a few Greek and Roman writings on the topic; among other things, these classical writers discuss the role of hierarchy in friendship.

Hierarchies based on other platonic feelings are such an enormous topic that I can only suggest that anyone interested in finding original texts on this start by browsing through Paul Halsall's Internet History Sourcebooks. For example, texts on hierarchy can be found in the sections devoted to Greek slavery, Roman slavery, Roman upper classes, medieval feudalism, medieval peasantry, and medieval social classes.


The best source of fiction on historical hierarchical relationships (whether based on platonic feelings or sexual desire) is older literature, much of which is available online. Alas, I've yet to find an e-texts site that divides its fiction into subjects more specific than "Romance" or "Science Fiction." This is in marked contrast to older popular literature, which tended to divide itself naturally into "types," much as popular literature does today.

Fortunately, one online archive has taken note of this fact and provided easy searching options for its holdings: the Digital Tradition Folk Song Database, which has about 9000 entries. If you're not familiar with traditional folk songs, you should know that they're the predecessor of genre fiction, with lots of bloodcurdling drama and tearjerker plots. In fact, "tearjerker" is one of the keyword options, allowing you to pull up all songs of that type. You can also search for your hierarchy of choice, whether it be "captive" or "lord" or "apprentice." The database can be downloaded for offline use.

If you're searching for modern fiction, Barnes & not only allows its visitors to search through fiction by genre, locations, and time periods, but also has a useful section called Fiction Subjects. Within this section, the best place to look for books on hierarchical relationships is in the section entitled Character Types, which has such entries as "Aristocrats & Bluebloods" and "Peasants." However, subheadings for hierarchical relationships are scattered throughout the Fiction Subjects section, so you may wish to browse through the headings.

The Library of Congress also divides fiction by subject headings; since its headings are used by most American libraries, you may be able to locate books this way through your local library catalogue. You can ask whether your library has the book entitled Library of Congress Subject Headings, which will help you to select the headings you're interested in. This is also available online as Library of Congress Authorities, though the book is easier to browse through. The site isn't very user-friendly for non-librarians, but there's a FAQ page that explains what authorities are, and if you simply plug a subject into the search engine (for example "queens fiction"), you'll get the gist of how the site works.

The only readers who seem to have gone to the trouble to subdivide their genres into types of relationships are readers of romance and erotica. All About Romance, for example, offers a Special Title Listings section in which books about male/female romance are divided by subject, such as "Guardian/Ward Romances," "Pirates & Vikings et al," and "Friendship." Many of these novels are set in historical periods.

It is much more difficult to locate lists of this sort that are devoted to homoerotic romance. The literature section of the excellent glbtq encyclopedia discusses hierarchical relationships in many of its articles on historical literature, but there is no central article where the role of hierarchy in historical gay and lesbian literature is clearly outlined.

Historical fiction is not yet a widely recognized category of same-sex fiction; thus, there are few resources available on this subgenre. (The few that I have located on the Web are listed at Homoerotic Historical Fiction Links.) Online, the largest number of same-sex romance sites that are devoted to historical fiction can be found in the slash community, which produces primarily (but not exclusively) fan fiction, either romance or erotica. The central location for historical slash is the Slash Cotillion, which has extensive links and recommendations lists. It is possible to do a search within the site for certain types of hierarchical relationships, but not many.

In more recent times, various gay subcultures have experimented with hierarchical relationships for both sexual and nonsexual reasons, most notably the leather community. The history of leather in the second half of the twentieth century – including information on leather novels and stories during that period – is explored at my own set of sites, The Leather Research Reference Shelf.

In the end, readers interested in locating stories about historical hierarchical relationships must often do the hard work of slogging their way through general lists of older literature and historical fiction. Hopefully, the day will come when one of those readers will compile a resource that will assist the rest of us.


You're welcome to e-mail me. I should warn you ahead of time, though, that I won't be adding new links to this site. Of course, I've said that before.

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