Tag Archives: Sexology

Sexology and Translation – Continued

Last week I published a post for Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality to mark the publication of a collection of essays I edited, Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World

I had already briefly introduced the project here. However, the Notches post gave me an opportunity to reflect more fully on the project, and the contributions made by scholars working on sexuality in modern Austria, China, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Japan, Palestine, Peru and Russia. You can read the full post below.

It prompted a number of people to get in touch with me about their research and teaching diverse topics relating to modern sexual science, broadly conceived, in a wide range of geographical contexts including – and going beyond-  the ones covered in the book.

I would love to hear about more of this work. So if you’re interested in sharing your research or teaching, send me an email: h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk


Found in Translation: How Sexual Debates Developed Across the Modern World

A new collection of essays I edited, Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters Across the Modern World (Temple UP, 2015) shows that the emergence of modern sexuality was a global phenomenon.

The book examines the contemporaneous emergence of sexual science in Europe, Asia, Peru, and the Middle East between the later nineteenth century and the period leading up to World War II. It brings together literary and cultural scholars, historians, sociologists, and political scientists whose contributions cover topics ranging from the history of frigidity to ‘third sex’ culture in 1920s Berlin and the development of the sexual sciences in Russia.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 7.43.46 AM

Many of the contributors first met at an international, Wellcome Trust funded symposium I organized in 2012. The event was prompted by the realization that while we know that many of the founding texts of the sexual science in nineteenth-century Europe were multilingual as well highly intertextual, we still know relatively little about the global travels of ideas and people that shaped modern sexual debates.

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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.




24 July 2014. A New Institute of Sexology?

The Wellcome Collection has announced a forthcoming exhibition and series of events entitled “The Institute of Sexology”. It covers materials “from Alfred Kinsey’s complex questionnaires to the contemporary National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal)” and explores  “pathologies of perversion and contested ideas of normality” to show “how sex has been observed, analysed and questioned from the late 19th century to the present day.”

The exhibition coincides with my own current work on Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin. Founded in 1919 as the first of its kind, the Institute was a place for research and social reform. Its activities included next to homosexual rights activism for example demands for women’s equality and birth control. These wide-ranging reform efforts and the practical services provided by the Institute –which covered issues as diverse as councelling for queer and trans people to marital advice – attracted many visitors, both from Berlin’s and from placed around the world.

BBonfire05ut the success of these activities, together with the fact that the Institute was home to Jewish and homosexual practitioners such as Hirschfeld himself, was not well received by the conservative establishment and the National Socialists. In May 1933, it became the first target in a series of Nazi offensives that led to the infamous ‘book burnings’. These events, which are well documented in surviving texts, photographs and films from the time, show that in the early twentieth-century the business of sex research could be a dangerous undertaking.

We know today that the attempts of early sexologists to challenge narrow assumptions about how bodies should look like or how sexual desire should be expressed sometimes resulted in the production of damaging new norms. My project further turns attention to the attacks on both individual sex researchers and the emerging discipline of sexology. For these attacks show that real and symbolic violence played a crucial role in the emergence of contemporary sex research.

It will be interesting to see how the Wellcome sexology season engages with this complicated history.




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

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.

3 January 2014: CFP: Homophobia Rewritten

I’m looking forward to spending 2014 working on A Violent World of Difference: Magnus Hirschfeld and the Shaping of Queer Modernity.

The project is being launched with a Call-for-Papers for Homophobia Rewritten: New Literary Perspectives on Violence and Sexuality, a one-day symposium I’m organising at Birkbeck on Friday 13 June 2014. The brilliant Alison Donnell, Professor of Modern Literature at Reading University, will be presenting the keynote. Further details can be found on the CFP page on this blog.