- A Global History of Sexuality: The Modern Era ed. by Robert M. Buffington, Eithne Luibhéid, Donna J. Guy, and: Sex, Power and Slavery ed. by Gwyn Campbell, Elizabeth Elbourne, and: Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education by Jonathan Zimmerman, and: Sex and Control: Venereal Disease, Colonial Physicians, and Indigenous Agency in German Colonialism, 1884–1914 by Daniel J. Walther
In 1929 Pope Pius IX issued an encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (The Christian education of youth), condemning the growing trend of sex education and commanding Catholic parents to enroll their children only in devotional schools. The following year, in response to a decision of the Anglican Lambeth conference in London to approve the use of birth control in certain cases, Pius issued another encyclical, Casti connubii (Of chaste wedlock), upholding Catholic prohibitions on contraception and abortion, challenging eugenic principles (and especially the practice of sterilization), and underscoring that sex was intrinsically a procreative act. These two important decrees were an alarmed response to perceived changes in sexual attitudes and practices, and reveal the centrality of sexual matters to the fabric of authority and power, whether religious or secular. Historians of sexuality seek to understand and explain this deep connection, which insists that sex beyond as well as within the bedroom is of critical historical importance. The four books under discussion here take up varying aspects of that scholarly pursuit in transnational contexts relatively new to the history of sexuality.
Robert Buffington, Eithne Luibhéid, and Donna Guy, in their Global History of Sexuality, are explicit about the reach of their work, and indeed claim in their introduction that they aim to correct the dominance of the West and of Western influence in historical understandings of sexuality. In Sex, Power, and Slavery, Gwyn Campbell and Elizabeth Elbourne, while acknowledging the difficulties raised by their approach, offer analyses of radically different modes of slavery. Their comprehensive collection ranges from Russia and China, across Asia, the [End Page 362] Caribbean, and Africa, to Europe, encompassing Indian Ocean slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, widespread sexual trafficking, and more. In his lively popular history of sex education, Too Hot to Handle, Jonathan Zimmerman also attempts global coverage, though his reference point remains the United States, whether in its reach across the world or in its domestic policies. And while Sex and Control, Daniel Walther’s study of VD control, is German in its focus, its colonial orientation also internationalizes it. The history of sexuality, then, has taken the global turn, echoing many of the claims and indeed concerns articulated in transnational scholarship.
In keeping with the bulk of transnational work, these volumes are largely concerned with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; only Campbell and Elbourne’s collection reaches back farther in a few chapters (Hellie on Russia, Vankeerberhegen on China, and Trabelsi on the early Islamic world). Their collection is otherwise mostly focused on the modern world as are the other titles discussed here, with Buffington, Luibhéid, and Guy also devoting considerable attention to the contemporary. Following Foucault, Buffington, Luibhéid, and Guy point to the new meanings sexual behavior acquired in the eighteenth century and the increasing attention paid thereafter to state regulation of sex. They acknowledge, too, the profound influence of modern European colonialism, a theme explicit in the work of Walther and of Campbell and Elbourne and implicit in Zimmerman’s study. This association draws on a significant body of work, which argues that modern colonial authority rested centrally on categorizing as well as regulating sex...