About A Violent World of Difference

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A Violent World of Difference: Magnus Hirschfeld and the Shaping of Queer Modernity is an AHRC-funded study of how violence, death, hatred and persecution affected the development of modern queer identity and culture, 1900-1950.

The research focuses on the work and reception of the prolific Jewish sexologist and activist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), who is best known today for his homosexual rights activism, foundational studies of transvestism and opening of the world’s first Institute of Sexual Sciences in Berlin. But Hirschfeld was also a chronicler of the effects of hate and violence against lesbians and homosexual men and other groups of people.

Publishing both in German and English and influenced by his literary as well as medical training, he wrote, for example, about the death of Oscar Wilde and how it affected homosexual men at the turn of the last century; he conducted the first statistical surveys of lesbian and homosexual suicide; and he published books on war, nationalism and racism in which he collated evidence of different forms of collective discrimination and their impact on individual lives. A well-known figure amongst contemporary writers and artists, he was instrumental in the production of a series of films about aspects of sexual discrimination, famously starring in Anders als die Anderen [Different from the Others], a silent movie about homosexual blackmail released in German cinemas in 1919.

Hirschfeld’s homosexuality as much as his Jewishness, and his cultural activities as much as his political activism, were at the centre of several verbal and physical attacks on his life. Having travelled extensively between the 1890s and 1920s, he eventually left Germany for good in 1930 because of the increased threat of Nazi persecution. When he returned to Europe from a world lecturing tour two years later, Hirschfeld witnessed in a cinema in Paris news of the destruction of his Institute, which culminated in his bust being paraded through the streets of Berlin before it was set alight in the first of the Nazi book burnings.

A Violent World of Difference excavates this complex archive for the insights it provides into the role of violence in the shaping of modern queer identity and culture.

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