Tag Archives: Institute of Sexual Sciences

22 Jan. 2014: This Archive is Empty

Research is a serendipitous business, and sometimes mystery prevails.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 09.47.12I learnt a while ago that there is a mystery around the later years of Li Shiu Tong, known as Tao Li, Magnus Hirschfeld’s partner. The two men had met in Shanghai in the early 1930s when Tao Li was 24 and Hirschfeld 63 years old. Tao Li subsequently accompanied Hirschfeld on the remainder of his world journey; and he stayed in Europe until Hirschfeld’s death in 1935.

Hirschfeld bequeathed the younger man his personal effects including diaries, photographs, books and other papers that had survived the Nazi attack on his Institute in Berlin. Historians know that Tao Li took care of these belongings, for there are records of his crating up the materials and moving them with him on his postwar journeys. The last of these records is from the late 1950s. After this time Tao Li drops off the critical radar.

The Hirschfeld belongings eventually re-materialize in Vancouver in 1993, where they are found after Tao Li’s death, dumped in suitcases near the rubbish bins of an apartment block. A tenant finds them, realises that they may be important and posts a notice on the Internet which comes to the attention of Hirschfeld scholars in Berlin. The director of the Berlin-based Magnus Hirschfeld Society, Ralf Dose, flies out to Canada to collect the items.

My own encounter with this archive began with a notice I found recently in the 2007 newsletter of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota. The article announces that the Collection had purchased the Magnus Hirschfeld Li Family Estate. I immediately searched the collection for further details, but to no avail.

On contacting the – as it turns out – extremely helpful archivist I was told that the materials have once more gone missing. For when the Tretter Collection opened the boxes sent to them by the Hirschfeld Society, they found that the content had been removed during the journey.

I think it is fair to say that these missing materials do impede the development of my project, partly because my focus lies on violence and Hirschfeld’s Anglophone reception. Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 10.53.45 Furthermore, Hirschfeld’s legacy is already significant, comprising more than fifty major books and articles plus countless photographs, other writings and even a series of films. Unlike many other historical figures, then, the legacy of his life and work, while fragmented, exists in more than mere fragments. But a missing archive nevertheless captures the imagination, not least because it symbolises the fantasy of scholarly completeness. So do contact me if you have any news about the whereabouts of this material: h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk

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4 January 2014: Magnus Hirschfeld

Why turn to Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) to reexamine the difficult aspects of modern queer history and culture?Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 10.12.40

Hirschfeld is a well known figure, especially in the German history and historiography of sexuality, and he continues to inspire a number of German sexual reform organisations. My own reasons for turning to his work are, however, emphatically not about recuperating him as a ‘role model’ for queer activism. Like others, Hirschfeld was not free of the prejudice of his time. While his achievements should not be diminished, I think it is equally vital to pay attention to the norms that underpinned his thinking. For if we want to understand how prejudice is perpetuated and how norms work themselves into basic assumptions about what it means to be human, then we need histories that are attentive to the often paradox and difficult aspects of the queer past.

My project examines how violence, death and suicide shaped modern queer culture. Hirschfeld is of interest to me because his many activities place him at the centre of modern sexual politics. He was a sexologist and homosexual rights activist who, in 1919, founded the world’s first Institute for Sexual Sciences in Berlin. He is best known today for his concept of ‘sexual intermediaries’ (sexuelle Zwischenstufen), the idea that there exist infinite variations in gender and sexuality, and for his campaigning for the abolition of Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, which criminalised homosexuality. Hirschfeld is also remembered as one of the first transgender theorists. At the same time, however, like so many of his contemporaries, he promoted eugenics, pursuing the problematic belief that humans could be ‘improved’ via carefully managed reproduction, a belief that seems to jar with his equality activism and anti-racist politics.

ImageHirschfeld’s political activism, his Jewishness and homosexuality made him a target for rightwing attacks from the 1920s onward. In May 1933, while he was in exile, the Nazis destroyed his Institute and burnt many of its books in the first of the infamous book burnings.

While Hirschfeld’s activities were shaped by the German contexts in which he mainly worked, he also forged many international connections. I am particularly interested in his hitherto under-examined contributions to British and U.S. culture. Hirschfeld not only travelled regularly to the States, where he gave popular lectures, but he also collaborated with, for example, English sexologist Havelock Ellis, wrote about writers such as Oscar Wilde and himself entered literary history via the work and private papers of figures such as W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood.

While Hirschfeld’s main influence was in the male scientific and artistic circles of his time, he also collaborated with leading feminists such as Helene Stoecker, with whom he worked at the Institute, and the writer Franziska Mann, Hirschfeld’s sister with whom he wrote a pamphlet about women’s suffrage. These collaborations offer new insights into the – often problematic – intersecting histories of feminist and gay politics

Hirschfeld’s work, then, provides insights into the role of sexology in the international literary and political reform cultures of the early twentieth century and it helps us understand better the transnational contexts that shaped modern sexuality debates. Most of all, however, his writings contain an archive of little known writings on verbal and physical attacks on homosexuals, writings that document the range of difficult experiences that shaped modern queer life. Over the course of the project, I will research, collate and critique this material – and publish my findings here and, ultimately, in book form.