- Peripheral Desires: The German Discovery of Sex by Robert Deam Tobin, and: Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History 1880–1945 by Clayton J. Whisnant, and: Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis by Laurie Marhoefer, and: Violent Sensations: Sex, Crime and Utopia in Vienna and Berlin, 1860–1914 by Scott Spector, and: Vita Sexualis: Karl Ulrichs and the Origins of Sexual Science by Ralph M. Leck
"It would be anachronistic and methodologically misleading," argues Isabel Hull in her 1996 study, Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700–1815, to use the term "sexuality" for the period before 1815, a usage that would inappropriately impose "modern standards" onto "early modern categories."1 But where should one begin when the historiographical question is precisely the point of emergence of these "modern standards"—particularly if we have reason to question, as do the works examined here, the comprehensiveness of Foucault's attribution of the "birth" of modern conceptions of (homo)sexuality to an essay penned by German psychiatrist Carl von Westphal in the late 1860s?2 These five books explore the pivotal contributions of German intellectuals, writers, physicians, and jurists to modern understandings of sexuality, identity, and sexual politics. In doing so, they not only intervene into the historiography of sexuality in nineteenth- and twentieth-century modernity but also shed new light on the complex dynamics of German-speaking central Europe and ideas of "Germanness" during a time of significant political transition: a period when the violence and upheaval of revolutions and world wars transformed the ethnically and linguistically diverse Austro-Hungarian and Prussian Empires of the nineteenth century into the democratic nation-states of the twentieth before descending into dictatorship after 1933. [End Page 186]
Highlighting the prominence of early German scholars and activists for the history of sexuality, from psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing's pioneering Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) to scholar-activist Magnus Hirschfeld's renowned Institute for Sexual Science in Weimar Berlin, is in itself hardly a new gesture. Hirschfeld in particular, whose institute made a star turn in the second season of Amazon Prime's television series Transparent, has become a veritable academic celebrity in recent years, "lionized," as Jennifer Evans observes in a recent issue of German History devoted to the "queering" of that field, "as the guiding light of a rational, scientifically driven human rights movement for sexual toleration."3 Yet the five monographs examined here offer important examples of moving beyond established historiographical modes of celebration and condemnation, opening up new perspectives on the complex networks of exchange between doctors, patients, subcultures, and wider publics in the decades that shaped European modernity. Underpinned by impressively transdisciplinary selections of source materials, from legal, scientific, and medical texts to archival court files, published works of philosophy and literature, and an often sensationalist popular press, these works together suggest a certain coming of age for a once heavily marginalized subfield of central European history.
At the same time, these authors attend to the political investments of queer scholarship by highlighting the significance of debates first conducted in fin-de-siècle German-speaking Europe for understandings of sexuality well beyond that time and place. Laurie Marhoefer and Robert Deam Tobin not only contrast Hirschfeld's "born this...