6 May 1933: Thinking through History (before the General Election)

On this day in 1933, a group of Nazi students stormed the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin. Leaving a trail of destruction, they removed most of the Institute’s library and a bust of its founder, Magnus Hirschfeld. A few days later, on 10 May, these materials would be set alight on Berlin’s Opernplatz – the opera square –  an event that marks the beginning of the infamous Nazi book burnings (for more information click here).

“Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14597, Berlin, Opernplatz, Bücherverbrennung” Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.

In his diary – or what he calls in German his Testament, a word used to refer both to a person’s will and their legacy – Hirschfeld writes about the deep distress he felt when his lifework was set alight on a Scheiterhaufen. The English translation ‘pyre’ does not fully capture the strong associations of the German term with the early modern witch hunts. Yet Hirschfeld clearly drew on this difficult history to articulate his own experience of persecution and terror.

It is not uncommon that discussions of collective oppression and injury turn to ‘history’ to make oversimplified comparisons between distinct kinds of experience and circumstance. While we should be critical of such approaches – it is important, for instance, to recognise the distinct histories of antisemitism and homophobia that informed the Nazi attack on the Institute – remembering certain moments in history at certain points in the present nevertheless has its uses.

Eighty-two years after the events of May 1933, Hirschfeld’s tragic fate has itself come to stand for past injustice including in relation to the horrific acts perpetrated by the Nazi regime, and how they are remembered. It took until December 2003, for instance, before the German government agreed to a memorial dedicated to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust.

Thinking with and through this history remains an urgent task – especially perhaps today, on the eve of the UK general election when right-wing voices are heard so loudly across the country. This is not to draw a correlation between events of 1933 in Germany and British politics in 2015. But remembering the destruction of Hirschfeld and his Institute nevertheless serves as a poignant reminder that lives are easily turned into targets whose very existence is attacked and denied because their apparent ‘difference’ or ‘otherness’ from an imaginary norm is proclaimed problematic for the nation.

Talk on Magnus Hirschfeld, Oscar Wilde and how death shaped modern queer culture

I’m looking forward to discussing some of my research on death and modern queer culture at Birkbeck this May. The talk is free and open to all. You can book your place by emailing bebirkbeck@bbk.ac.uk. Further details below.

Heike Bauer – Dead Wilde: Magnus Hirschfeld and the Violent Shaping of Modern Queer Culture
Wednesday 27 May 2015 | 6.30 – 8.30pm | Keynes Library, Room 114, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1 0PD

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 09.11.13

This lecture is part of the Be Birkbeck lecture series.

How did the death of Oscar Wilde impact on the women and men who identified with ‘the love that dare not speak its name’? This talk explores an archive of little known writings on homosexual death and suicide by the influential sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935). Hirschfeld is best known today for his sexual rights activism, foundational studies of transvestism and opening of the world’s first Institute of Sexual Sciences in Berlin. But he was also a chronicler of the effects of hate and violence against lesbians and homosexual men. His writings contain many accounts of homophobic attack from around the world including observations on the trial and death of Oscar Wilde. These accounts suggest that such attacks had a wide-ranging impact, affecting not ‘just’ the victim but also the women and men who identified in some way with her or him.

The talk explores this unique record of queer life and death, 1900-1930. It demonstrates that violence, as well as affirmative cultural politics, shaped the emergence of modern sexual identity. The talk will also address the critical challenges of this archive: how to engage with the negative, and often violent, aspects of queer history without reinforcing pernicious stereotypes about miserable lesbian and gay existence?

Heike Bauer is a Senior Lecturer in English and Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on the history of sexuality, nineteenth and twentieth century literary culture, and on translation. Her books include English Literary Sexology, 1860-1930 (Palgrave, 2009), the 3-volume edited anthology Women and Cross-Dressing, 1800-1939 (Routledge, 2006), and the edited collections Queer 1950s: Rethinking Sexuality in the Postwar Years (Palgrave, 2012, with Matt Cook) and Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World (forthcoming with Temple University Press in 2015). She recently co-edited with Churnjeet Mahn a special issue on “Transnational Lesbian Cultures”, Journal of Lesbian Studies 18.3 (2014), and is currently completing the AHRC-funded study A Violent World of Difference: Magnus Hirschfeld and the Shaping of Queer Modernity. Click here for the project blog, or follow her on Twitter: @Heike_Bauer

This event is free and open to all, but booking is essential.

Conference: The History of the Body at the IHR

After the excellent Biological Discourses conference at Cambridge, I am now looking forward to The History of the Body symposium at the IHR.

I’ll be speaking on ‘Suicidal Scarring: Discourse and Experience in Magnus Hirschfeld’s Body of Work’. In this paper, I will examine what Magnus Hirschfeld’s work can tell us about  the complex role played by the body in the modern history of homosexuality. Specially, I will focus on his remarks about the ‘Suizidialnarben’ – or scars left by suicide attempts – which he encountered on the bodies of some of his patients. By exploring how the scarred bodies of these suicidal women and men shaped Hirschfeld’s work, the paper will address broader questions about the relationship between discourse and experience in the history of the body, and what a focus on the body might add to those examinations of the past that focus more specifically on sexuality.

The full programme is included below..

The History of the Body: Approaches and Directions

Institute of Historical Research, London: May 16th 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 08.50.35 




Registration 10 – 10:30am

Parallel Sessions 10:30 – 12:00pm

1A: Material Cultures (Chair: Will Pooley) Wolfson Seminar Room

Alun Withey, ‘Technologies of the Body in Eighteenth-Century Britain’

Robin Macdonald‘When ‘Discourse’ Meets ‘Experience’: Letters and Letter-bearers in the Writings of Seventeenth-century Missionaries in New France’

Lauren Fried, ‘Histories of Trans Bodies: A Museological Approach’

1B: Interpreting Bodies (Chair: Kevin Lewis) Room 304

Clare Tebbutt, ‘Of Oysters, Fowl and Free-martins: The Animal of Human Sex-changeability’

Caroline Nielsen, ‘Fraudulent Bodies: The Creation of the Discourse around Malingering and Illness Deception by Military Authorities, c.1780-1840’

Laura Guinot Ferri, ‘Women Saints and their Bodies: the Case of the Spanish Nun Inés de Benigànim (1625-1696)’

Lunch 12:00 – 13:00

Parallel Sessions 13:00 – 14:30

2A: Technologies (Chair: Jennifer Keating) Wolfson Seminar Room

Dora Vargha,’Disability History and the Boundaries of Body and Machine: the Iron Lung Patient as a “New Life-form”’

Will Pooley, ‘The Shadow Cultures: Popular Receptions of Medicine in France c.1790-1939’

Beatriz Pichel, ‘Photographing the Emotional Body in the Late Nineteenth Century’

2B: Masculinity and Martial Bodies (Chair: Erica Wald) Room 304

Hilary Buxton, ‘Intersectionality and the Global Soldier Body in the Great War’

Jessica Meyer, ‘Carrying, Cleaning and Caring: British Male Military Caregivers and the Body in the First World War’

Kate Imy, ‘Rebels of Ramzan: Indian Muslims, Food, and Fasting in the First World War’

Refreshments 14:30 – 15:00

Parallel Sessions 15:00 – 16:30

3A: Violence and Injury (Chair: Kate Imy) Wolfson Seminar Room

Giusi Russo, ‘Colonial Bodies in Pain: Emotions, Self-Rule, and Pathologies at the UN’

Heike Bauer, ‘Suicidal Scarring: Discourse, Experience and Magnus Hirschfeld’s Body of Work’. Click here for my paper abstract.

Luc Racaut, ‘The World Inside Out: Bodies and Emotions During the French Wars of Religion’

3B: Bodily Practices (Chair: Caroline Nielsen) Room 304

Kat Mutlow, ‘Peterloo: The Body and Radical Discourse’

Kevin Lewis, ‘Defining/Defiling the Medieval Abrahamic Body: Body Modification, Male Circumcision and the Problem of “Sacred Inviolability” between Christians, Jews and Muslims’

Cécile Feza Bushidi and Tom Cunningham, ‘Missionary Interventions Into Gikuyu Body Cultures, c1906-1938’

Refreshments 16:30-17:00

Plenary Talk 17:00-18:30 – Bedford Room, Senate House.

Fay Bound Alberti, ‘Hearts and Minds go Head to Head: The Body and the Self in History’

Register at: http://bit.ly/historyofthebody

Kindly supported by:

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 08.52.03



Conference: Biological Discourses around 1900

I’m delighted to have been invited to present the opening keynote at “Biological Discourses: The Language of Science and Literature around 1900”, which takes place at St John’s College, Cambridge, 10-11 April 2015.

The programme looks fantastic. It can be downloaded as a poster here. Or take a look at it below. I’m looking forward to the next two days!

Biological Discourses: The Language of Science and Literature around 1900

A Postgraduate-Led Conference at St John’s College, Cambridge

Friday, 10 April 2015

10.00 Registration

11.00 Welcome

11.15 Keynote Lecture
Heike Bauer (London): Death and Inversion

12.00 Panel 1: Sexology
Linda Leskau (Bochum): Vegetal Perversions in Texts by Alfred Döblin

Cyd Sturgess (Sheffield): Constructing the Boundaries of Desire: Theories of Sexual ‘Inversion’ and Sapphic Self-Fashioning in Berlin and Amsterdam (1918-1933)

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Panel 2: The Racial Other
Aisha Nazeer (St Andrews): The Degenerate, Racial ‘Other’: Reading the Abject in Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire and Haggard’s She

David Midgley (Cambridge): The Legacy of Haeckel in the Writings of German Anti-Racists

15.00 Panel 3: Infections and Infestations
Michael Wainwright (London): The Lair of the White: Stoker’s Literal Projection of a Helminthic Nightmare

Marie Kolkenbrock (Cambridge): Gothic Infections: Discourses of Bacteriology and Occultism in the Literature of Prague and Vienna around 1900

16.00 Tea

16.30 Panel 4: Reproductive Issues
Michael Eggers (Cologne): A Kiss is not just a Kiss. Adalbert Stifter’s Novella ‘The Kiss of the Sentze’ and the Reproduction of Mosses

Charlotte Woodford (Cambridge): Biology and the Romance: Eugenic Thinking in Early Twentieth- Century Fiction by Women

18.00 Graduate Workshop
An Opportunity to Present Research Plans and Seek Advice

Saturday, 11 April 2015

9.00 Panel 5: The Darwinian Legacy
Elena Borelli (New York): The Beast Within: Darwinism and Desire in the Fin de Siècle

Anahita Rouyan (Bologna): Resisting ‘Excelsior Biology’: H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the Late Victorian (Mis-)Representations of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

William Dodd (Birmingham): From Hitler to Darwin? Dolf Sternberger’s Panorama or Views of/from the Nineteenth Century (1938) as Cultural History in the Shadow of National Socialism

10.30 Coffee

11.00 Panel 6: Psychology and Aesthetics
Tracey Loughran (Cardiff): Biology, Trauma and History: ‘Shell-Shock’ in British Medical Literature and Fiction, ca. 1914-1930

Sarah Cain (Cambridge): Attention and Efficiency: The Experimental Psychology of Modernism

Rey Lawson-Conquer (Oxford): ‘Synaesthesia is the art of perceiving, itself’: The Uses and Abuses of a Cross-Disciplinary Metaphor

12.30 Commentary
Angus Nicholls (London)

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Panel 7: Literary Transformations
Robert Craig (Cambridge): ‘I looked for myself … but found the world’: Looking for a New Hermeneutics in Alfred Döblin’s Literary Anthropologies and Biologies

Annja Neumann (Cambridge): ‘Literarische Naturbetrachtung’. Arthur Schnitzler’s Literary Dissection Theatre in his Ärztestück and Professor Bernhardi

16.00 Keynote Lecture
Staffan Müller-Wille (Exeter): Heredity around 1900

16.45 Tea
17.30 Conference Closes

Conference organisers: Robert Craig, Ina Linge and Annja Neumann (Cambridge)

Advance registration required by Friday, 27 March 2015. Conference fees: £30 (standard rate one or both days); £25 (Friends of Germanic or Italian Studies at the IMLR); £20 (students).

Register online at http://onlinesales.admin.cam.ac.uk/, using the form overleaf/at http://www.modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk > events or http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/german, or contact german@mml.cam.ac.uk (tel: 01223 335 037)


A Violent World of Difference: One Year On.

A year ago I started this blog as a way of publicising the work I’d be completing as part of an AHRC-funded project entitled A Violent World of Difference: Magnus Hirschfeld and Queer Modernity.  I set out to discuss any issues that would come up in the course of my research but also to put together a record of the activities I planned to organise as part of the Fellowship.

As it turned out, the blog proved to be more expansive but also more productive than I had anticipated. It now covers topics that range from my encounter with casual racism during the difficult time when my dog went missing in the woods to discussions of queer soldiers during World War I and an account of Oscar Wilde’s (Prison) Friends. All of these entries are in some way connected to my Hirschfeld project. Some of them explore, for instance, how stereotypes are perpetuated and the damage this causes. Others consider possibilities of resistance, not least because Hirschfeld’s work is most famous today for its innovative and radical aspects including his homosexual rights activism and groundbreaking conception of what he called ‘transvestism’.

Below I outline some of the findings of my project to date. This is not a final or fully comprehensive account. A book will follow in due course. And I’m also planning to continue the blog with occasional posts on issues relating to the history of sexuality and anti-queer violence. The examples I discuss below give a sense of what my project is about. They have been especially important for the direction of my research as they changed my understanding of Hirschfeld’s work and the issues that define the modern history of same-sex sexuality more broadly.

A Deadly History

Over the course of the last year I found many examples that indicate that the history of modern homosexuality can, or should, not be understood as a simple progress narrative. This insight is of course not new. Many existing histories of same-sex sexuality have focused on the importance of affirmative cultural production and representation for the emergence of lesbian and gay identities and subcultures from the latter nineteenth-century onward. However, my research shows that direct experiences of violence, and the witnessing of
violence against others, equally shaped a collective sense of modern queer existence.

Magnus Hirschfeld’s own sexual reforms politics were partly motivated by the suicide of one of his patients, a young man who left him a series of letters in which he described as unbearably shameful his desire for other men. The death prompted Hirschfeld to undertake what became one of the earliest statistical surveys of homosexual suicide, conducted during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The material he collected offers specific insights into the reasons given – mostly fear and shame – by the women and men who killed themselves. It furthermore indicates the traumatic impact of these deaths, as Hirschfeld records his on emotional responses to the suicides as well as documenting how other women and men reacted to them. While it may ultimately be impossible to determine why some people kill themselves, this archive nevertheless demonstrates that there is a collective shape to queer suicide: that social isolation as much as the active persecution of bodies and desires that do not fit specific norms plays a role in why some people end their lives.

A Violent Omission

A main aspect of my research on the ‘missing’ and neglected parts of Hirschfeld’s archive thus deals with the shaping of queer subcultures. Another key finding has been that the history of the emerging homosexual rights movement in Europe cannot be understood as separate from the history of European colonialism. Scholars have paid considerable critical attention to the intersections between race, sexuality and colonialism across time. Yet we know surprisingly little about the impact of colonialism on early sexual rights politics and the work of sexologists such as Hirschfeld.

By paying close attention to what it meant that Hirschfeld came of age, professionally and politically, during the period of Germany’s ‘official’ reign as a colonial power, which lasted from 1889 to 1919, I have been able to gain a better understanding of the violent conditions that shaped whose bodies and lives became part of the homosexual rights movement, and on what terms. This research re-contextualises the development of Hirschfeld’s own understanding of racism. He famously completed one of the first modern studies racism, which was published posthumously in 1938. The study was no doubt prompted by Hirschfeld’s own persecution by the Nazis. Yet I found that Racism can also be read as the belated product of Hirschfeld’s experiences of German colonialism, further supporting my argument that emergence of the modern homosexual rights movement is entangled with the traumatic realties of colonialism and racial oppression.

Precious Critical Time

I recently went to an AHRC Leadership conference where someone described the new Fellowship scheme as a double deal: a combination of the previous fellowship award, which primarily provided research time, and a network grant, which aims to facilitate research collaboration by providing the means for organising and hosting a series of meetings between experts.

My own experience certainly supports this description. The AHRC Fellowship has enabled me to
focus on completing research for a book by providing time away from my usual teaching and admin duties and by making it possible for me to visit some of the key Hirschfeld archives, which are spread around the world. But the award has also enabled me to organise a series of events ranging from a public film screening to an academic symposium and a specialist workshop for humanities scholars and health professionals (see my Events page for further details).

I’m looking forward to developing these links and exploring new research that is beginning to emerge from this project. Watch this space for more information!


5 January 2014.