Journal of the History of Sexuality 12.1 (2003) 122-126
[Access article in PDF]
Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (1919-1933)—The Institute for Sexual Science—Instituto de Sexología. Ausstellung—Exhibition—Exposición. Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft, Berlin, 2002
The advent of the Internet has opened up new possibilities for publishing and distributing the printed word as well as pictorial material. The combination of the two in the form of an "exhibition" is a particularly happy instance of what the widespread use of home computers and high-speed Internet connections make available. Instead of walking through several rooms of exhibits, pausing now and then to gaze at an intriguing picture, getting closer to read the accompanying text, or reading the text first and being led by it to inspect an accompanying illustration, you can literally "let your fingers do the walking." I have described here what you will find in the exhibition The Institute for Sexual Science, followed by an evaluation of the technical aspects of the exhibition and some hints for viewing it.
First, a statistical overview. The exhibition, which may be toured in German, English, or Spanish, contains some sixty web pages and three hundred illustrations, which are divided into five "chapters." The chapters (including the number of their corresponding web pages and illustrations) are as follows: Building (5, 27), Personnel (40, 36), Theory & Practice (30, 181), Sexual Reform (6, 22), and Destruction & Exile (5, 35).
To enter the exhibition, set your browser to www.magnus-hirschfeld.de/institute The opening pages will be in German, but as soon as you see a flag at the top of the window that is half American and half British, click on it (but don't wait too long!), and the opening page will repeat in English. (For Spanish, click on a yellow flag with a "ñ" on it.) Then you will see, briefly, a picture of the Institute building as a photo negative, which [End Page 122] neatly changes into a positive image, while superimposed on it is the curious inscription "m m+w w" and "3 16 = 43 046 721 Sexual Transitions." You will learn later in the exhibit about Magnus Hirschfeld's theory of "sexual transitions." He identified at least sixteen sexual characteristics (body build, genitals, handwriting, etc.), each of which can occur as "completely male" (m), "completely female" (w), or halfway between the two (m+w), that is, in at least three ways. Thus the number of various possibilities is the number 3 raised to the 16th power. In practice, of course, the number is infinite, so that each of us is a unique sexual type, which is the basic tenet of Hirschfeld's biological theory of sexuality.
Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), a "Jewish, gay, and socialist sexologist," as his German biographer described him in the subtitle of his biography, 1 founded the first gay rights organization (the term is somewhat anachronistic) in Berlin in 1897, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. Its purpose was to bring about a better understanding of homosexuality and so effect a reform of the German penal code, which punished homosexual acts. Hirschfeld edited the committee's yearbook from 1899 to 1923, but he greatly expanded his activity in 1919 when he bought a large building in Berlin and established there an Institute for Sexual Science. A second building was added in 1921, and the whole was transferred in 1924 to the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation "for the advancement of scientific research into all aspects of sexual life and of sex education." It was recognized by the Weimar government as a charitable organization with attendant tax benefits, which were retroactively canceled in 1933, when the Nazis confiscated the property without compensation. The buildings were destroyed in 1943 during an Allied air raid.
In addition to consultation rooms, classes, and workshops, a lecture hall seating two hundred, and a large library and archive, there were living quarters for several people as well as rooms for people sent there by the criminal court for "expert assessment." Indeed, forensic fees provided a major source of income for the Institute. Hirschfeld lived...