More Book Summaries on European History—and How These Relate to My Proposed Dissertation

The book summaries below are from my European History list with Heidi Voskuhl, a subsection titled “Bodies and Sexuality.” Since reading towards oral exams is not (only) an initiation rite, but also supposed to prepare me for my dissertation, I thought I’d post my current dissertation abstract before I provide the reading summaries. After all, is for project-related blogs, not blogs of individual scholars. And this IS a project! Five to six years in grad school in preparation for this dissertation:

My dissertation traces and compares handedness and sex/gender as categories in the mind and brain sciences in Europe and the United States since the late nineteenth century. I inquire into the extent to which sex/gender and handedness were treated as unchangeable, innate qualities that originate from and impact the brain and mind. I also examine the interaction of changing conceptualizations of handedness and sex/gender on views of brains, selves, and groups of individuals sharing these characteristics. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which changes in scientific institutions and in society at large altered the understanding of the two categories. My work thus contributes to the historical scholarship on scientific classifications in different contexts: scientific laboratories, public policies, as well as social and cultural life more broadly. Since handedness has been largely neglected by historians, scientific publications as well as archival collections are crucial to this project. Combining close reading with large-scale digital text analyses will illuminate the practice and impact of scientific classifications. The dissertation will thus draw awareness to the continuities and ruptures in the meanings of two of the most pervasive categories in contemporary societies and to the relations between them.

Now you know what I’m talking about when I make statements about the ways in which these readings relate to my prospective dissertation topic (as I try to do more and more, as you will see even better in later and not-yet-posted essays).

Works Read:

Hunt, Margaret R. 2010. Women in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Abrams, Lynn. 2002. The Making of Modern Woman: Europe 1789–1918. Longman History of European Women 5. Edinburgh, London: Pearson Education.

Scott, Joan W. 1996. Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Roberts, Mary L. 2002. Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-Siècle France. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Allen, Ann T. 1991. Feminism and Motherhood in Germany, 1800–1914. New Brunswick/New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Wildenthal, Lora. 2001. German Women for Empire, 1884–1945. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hau, Michael. 2003. The Cult of Health and Beauty in Germany: A Social History, 1890–1930. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Surkis, Judith. 2006. Sexing the Citizen: Morality and Masculinity in France, 1870–1920. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mosse, George L. 1996. The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hull, Isabel V. 1996. Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700–1815. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Gallagher, Catherine, and Thomas W. Laqueur, eds. 1987. The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Matysik, Tracie. 2008. Reforming the Moral Subject: Ethics and Sexuality in Central Europe, 1890–1930. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Spector, Scott, Helmut Puff, and Dagmar Herzog, eds. 2012. After the History of Sexuality: German Genealogies with and beyond Foucault. Spektrum 5. New York: Berghahn Books.

Women in Eighteenth-Century Europe is Margaret Hunt’s truly pan-European inquiry, as the list of consulted libraries in the acknowledgements suggests. The treatment of “Ottoman women” (or ‘Ottowomen’?) as European citizens in particular, Hunt explains in her introduction, needed some long neglected elaboration (p. 2). Hunt’s bibliographical references point mostly to 20th– and 21st-century secondary sources, but boxes with lengthy excerpts of “Voices from the Past” (e.g., p. 32) and not least Hunt’s recommendations for “Further Reading” towards the end of the book reveal a solid engagement with primary sources as well. A big concern regarding all groups of women treated is Hunt’s question of whether or not they “possessed historical agency” (p. 5). Her answer is ‘yes’, but she also names some caveats: the absence of written records on many forms of female resistance, historians’ bias to acknowledge only several forms of agency as such (e.g., not the one acted out in the religious realm), and the problem of acknowledging ways of agency that were enacted at the expense of other—and weaker—women, without concerns about female solidarity.

Hunt’s work is a much needed complement to accounts in the style of Nipperdey’s and Wehler’s male-centered histories, but it covers much more geographical ground and can thus not give as much detail as Nipperdey and Wehler can, even though Hunt also treats a much shorter period of time than her old male colleagues. The topics she discusses have much resemblance to Wehler’s chapter structure. It is remarkable that Hunt chose to offer a compilation of women’s concerns in the 18th century rather than a coherent argument that is contextualized with political and social changes, with the exception of maybe the chapter on revolutions that ties in women’s marginalization and political developments. One of the bigger arguments the book does make is certainly that there was much overlap between central and eastern European countries as well as the traditions in the Ottoman Empire and that any ‘othering’ was mainly a rhetoric device of contemporary actors asserting the “West’s” superiority.

Several ‘small’ arguments connect the individual chapters of the monograph. For instance, Hunt identifies both literacy and (an increase of) sexual freedom as intellectually and emotionally liberating as well as beneficial to women’s health and wellbeing more broadly (chs. 3 and 7). Furthermore, she illustrates that women’s living situations did not steadily improve over the course of the 18th century; for instance, food and the general living standards were significantly disrupted by the revolutions in the late 18th century, and the industrial revolution did not immediately lead to more economical power or at least equality either (chs. 4, 5, and 9). As far as women’s rights go, Hunt shows that feminist demands were starting to be fulfilled only after the Napoleonic era (i.e., after 1815), and she asks if, assuming central European women had known of the property rights of their Muslim neighbors, for instance, some forms of emancipation would have taken that long (chs. 3, 8, and 9). Eventually, Hunt concludes that “if the story of eighteenth-century women teaches us anything it is that the outcome of collective interventions is often very difficult to predict, either in the short or long range” (p. 381), that is, the history of women is as contingent and unpredictable as political history as Blackbourn and Eley, amongst others, remind us.

Lynn Abrams’s The Making of Modern Woman takes up women’s history where Hunt left off and tells the history of European women in the long 19th century, from the French Revolution to the end of WWI. Abrams covers similar topics as Hunt, even though her focus lies more on social factors than on cultural developments; in addition, Abrams does not extend her “Europe” to the Ottoman Empire and “Europe” seems to be mostly coherent whole, which is surprising since Sheehan already emphasized the huge varieties across the German states alone (see last essay). Furthermore, Abrams’s main contribution is to compile secondary sources with regard to women’s experiences in three fields: their roles and ascriptions to their bodies and personalities, their lives in families and the workplace, as well as their experiences in the political realm during colonization, first-wave feminism, the finally successful fight for women’s suffrage, and the Great War. The contemporary sources Abrams refers to are mostly derived from present-day editions of primary sources. The big overlap between Hunt’s and Abrams’s works as well as the German histories of Nipperdey and Wehler is the topic-oriented organization that breaks up traditional periodization and better reflects the continuities (considered “female,” pp. 4 ff) and ruptures (considered “male”) in 19th-century history and in women’s experiences.

Abrams reminds us that the course of history did not necessarily mean an improved standing of women. For example, with the Enlightenment in the late 18th century came new views of the female body and the feminine role in society; the nature-culture divide was formulated scientifically with all of its religious, political, and social implications, that is, biology was seen as a determinant of one’s personality and one’s membership of the alleged separate social spheres or men and women (ch. 1). How to acquire the proper femininity and inhabit the female sphere, that is, the non-intellectual realms and the home as a reproducer and nurturer, was taught to girls and women in their own families and marriages, in formal education, in books, in periodicals, and through serving professions (chs. 2, 4, and 5). Nonetheless, the patriarchal power of marriage decreased over the course of the 19th century, when love marriage became more common amongst the European middle classes and when the (re-)institution of relatively liberal divorce laws made it easier for women to live a self-determined life (ch. 3). Not only divorce, but also remaining an unmarried widow and continuing the inherited business or running a home according to her own principles were further ways of resistance against the very pervasive role models (chs. 3 and 5).

Moreover, Abrams illustrates the ways in which women took the first steps towards sexual liberation pertaining to their own pleasure, choice of sexual partners, or birth control and argues that these developments were the stepping stone towards a much broader female emancipation in the social and political realms (ch. 6). With regard to professional occupation, women’s options remained very limited until well into the 20th century (ch. 7); similarly most European women had to wait until the end of WWI to gain suffrage (ch. 8). But feminist movements in Europe (ch. 10) and its colonies (ch. 9) finally led to significant improvements in women’s lives, from education to employment to citizen rights and moral standing. Abrams ends her considerations with women’s work for and fighting in WWI, asserting that it further disrupted the old Enlightenment gender roles but could not entirely dismantle them (ch. 11).

Abrams’s concise account serves as a first overview that elicits many questions for more specific information and personal stories of women in different places. Just like Hunt’s work, it also leaves the reader with the question of why so few of the white men in the previous section of this orals list (see last essay) have at all—and if, then to a marginal extent—engaged with women. Furthermore, Hunt’s and Abrams’s attention to women did not include substantial considerations of children and their status in society, neither boys nor girls. We know from Wehler’s and Nipperdey’s accounts of Germany that ‘adolescence’ was invented as a concept in the 19th century and treated as a distinct societal challenge; Abrams at least could have expanded on this issue.

Joan Scott details the history of long-19th-century feminism with her monograph Only Paradoxes to Offer. The work provides the reader with case studies of individual female French feminists in chronological order, showing that the question of whether the argument of differences or similarities between men and women makes for a more successful or morally ‘better’ feminism is misleading. In her own words, Scott argues “that feminist agency is paradoxical in its expression” in that its emphasis on individualism oftentimes strengthened arguments for the oppression of females based on notions of sex differences (p. 16). Furthermore, Scott means to explicate “that feminist agency has a history,” or in other words, that “it is an effect of ambiguities, inconsistencies, contradictions within particular epistemologies” (ibid.). In doing so, Scott illustrates the extent to which not even the concepts of “woman” and “feminism” remained constant over the course of the century, let alone any value judgement of the ways in which women fought for civil rights, social liberties, and cultural freedom.

Scott draws mainly on published primary and secondary sources. In chapter 2, she introduces her first case study on Olympe de Gouges, who published a Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizen in 1791. Scott explains the ways in which de Gouges’s call for women’s rights rested on her assertion of specific female qualities that made women eligible as full citizens and at the same time her tendency to represent women (including herself) as men in this fight for rights as “active citizens” (pp. 33 ff). With an even stronger ideological foundation than de Gouges, Jeanne Deroin subscribed to heterosexuality and the differences between the alleged two sexes on the foundation of a Saint-Simonian mindset of the couple, not the individual, as the core unit of society (ch. 3). Deroin invoked a rhetoric of complementarity and the ability to bear and rear children as the reason for women’s equal value and her socialist demands for suffrage and working rights in the revolutions of 1848. Hubertine Auclert, identifying with socialist and republican values as the two movements grew apart, was one of the major figures to fight for women suffrage in the Third Republic. Like Deroin and de Gouge, Scott shows, she invoked women’s unique characteristics, like maternalism and socialist interests, in order to advocate for women’s political rights (ch. 4).

Madeleine Pelletier did not support any argument that invoked sex differences as a reason for female liberation (ch. 5). To her, equal rights were the means to escape femininity and subjective femaleness, which she called “psychological sex,” a concept that resembles our idea of ‘gender’ (p. 134). Her denial of her body’s power to make her feminine that she proved in her writing and cross-dressing, for instance, led authorities to refer to her as a lesbian while she herself reported to be celibate and seems to not have abandoned the idea of homosexuality’s being an abnormality. Pelletier derived her strong convictions from observations of the egalitarian play among children and her knowledge as a psychiatrist and physician—a combination of characteristics that makes her highly attractive for my dissertation as an early-20th-century professional on brain sex differences and feminist activist. The entire monograph is intriguing and of outmost conceptual importance regarding the variability of ‘feminism’ over the course of the 19th century, but Pelletier’s case study is probably the only one of direct relevance to my dissertation project.

In Disruptive Acts, Mary Roberts provides more case studies of women resisting the pressures of misogyny and sexism in late-19th and early-20th century France (most prominently, newspaper founder and actress Marguerite Durand, actress Sarah Bernhardt, and writers Gyp and Séverine). Similar to the ‘masculinity crisis’ in the post-WWII US (see James Gilbert’s Men in the Middle, not on this list), fin-de-siècle France partially fought and partially embraced a disintegration of Third-Republic liberal values and gender roles, leading to the emergence of the “New Woman,” perceived as a threat to both femininity and masculinity. Unlike Allen’s maternal feminists (see below), which also existed in France at the time, Roberts’s New Woman was the working woman, the feminist activist, the single woman, the wife in an untraditional marriage, or another type of publicly visible and scrutinized dangerous woman that escaped or parodied the traditional domestic sphere and entered the public sphere as a (non-)mother out of choice rather than natural law (the “public sphere” is a topic familiar from Wehler’s and Nipperdey’s German histories and to elaborated on in more detail by Allen).

Roberts draws on archival material, newspapers, and periodicals to investigate into the question of how this escape from the traditional domestic female was possible for these women and how the viewed themselves. “[A]cting and acting up” (ch. 2), physically leaving the domestic sphere and appearing in public, performance and revaluations of traditional roles and behaviors, entrepreneurial spirit and bravery, employing the press as a political medium, posing as eccentric stars and creating spectacle (ch. 6), consuming and offering themselves as commodities (ch. 7), as well as seduction, narcissism, and mimicry (ch. 3) are all possible answers to this question. Roberts does not romanticize her main characters and makes clear the extent to which they fought their own disenfranchisement without empathy for other oppressed groups, a theme familiar from Hunt’s account, as becomes clear in Gyp’s anti-Judaist nationalism (ch. 5). This is particularly remarkable since the New Woman and the Jew got increasingly linked in the nationalist imagination around 1900, Roberts shows—very concretely, through “Dreyfusardism” and being Jewish (Bernhardt), or more ideologically by associations with decadence and degeneration (ch. 4).

Roberts’s choice of individuals in the realm of theater and journalism is no coincidence. Roberts argues that these were, in their economic marginality, the most progressive communities of their time and thus provides a vivid picture of how the social and cultural histories of France—and women—are and can be written as closely intertwined. Consequently, this is yet another book about middle-class women—Scott, Allen, Wildenthal, and Hau (see below) also follow female characters whose overwhelming majority originates from the middle class(es). It is interesting to see the wide variety of concerns and strategies in French and German middle-class individuals, but it is at the same time a shame that quieter feminists’ voices are not recovered (see Hunt above).

German Women for Empire, 1884–1945 is Lora Wildenthal’s history of women’s involvement in German colonialism during the first decades of unified Germany through the end of WWII. The array of sources consulted is vast: archival papers from state agencies, missionary organizations, women’s associations, nursing institutions, and relevant individuals as well as periodicals and other published primary and secondary sources—including works of fiction—as detailed in long bibliographical lists. The appendix contains furthermore a short but very helpful list of “Colonialist and Women’s Organizations.”

In five chapters, Wildenthal illustrates the ways in which women of the late 19th and early 20th century have convinced men of their importance in building the German empire and how they have managed to institutionalize their support of German colonialism even before the achievement of women’s suffrage, for instance, as secular nurses (ch. 1), independent planters and writers (ch. 2), potential wives that would stop the “race mixing” (p. 5) of the early years of colonialism (ch. 3), farmer-settlers (including feminists advocating spiritual motherhood as defined by Allen; ch. 4), and sustainers of German-ness in former colonies after they had been freed from German rule as well as proponents of National Socialists ideologies of so-called racial purity (ch. 5). Throughout her book, Wildenthal emphasizes the diversity of these women regarding their religious, political, or geographical backgrounds. A crucial commonality is obvious: neither of these women could ever escape their metaphorically or literally reproductive and nurturing role. Wildenthal further makes clear that the mindsets over the course of the history she writes are diverse; even though the colonialist organizations and concerns survived until the Nazi regime, Wildenthal emphasizes that the colonizers’ attitude is not the same racism as the mid-20th-century anti-Judaism.

Wildenthal also discusses masculinity, for instance in a chapter about German’s sexual relations with colonial women and intermarriage (ch. 3). She shows that political confrontations between early conservative colonizers and later liberal nationalist colonizers subsumed the question of the freedom of marriage for colonizing men. In another vein, colonialist masculinity was again tied to the absence of German women in the colonies, Wildenthal argues. Some of the male colonizers deliberately sought patriarchal or even abusive relationships with colonial women that were not tolerated in Germany. The colonizing women, Wildenthal shows, both overtly criticized and covertly supported these practices—by not asserting the equality of colonized women with themselves in fear of losing the authoritative status they had fought for so deliberately. This female or even feminist assertiveness at the expense of other, underprivileged, women is a familiar trope from Hunt’s work on European women. Apart from this parallel, although the forms of nationalism and racism displayed in Wildenthal’s work seem so crucial to the German identity after the unification, none of the other authors on European women’s history on this list elaborates on it.

The Cult of Health and Beauty in Germany is another contribution to unraveling German-ness in the late 19th and early 20th century. Michael Hau draws on a wide array of contemporary periodicals, newspapers, health advice literature, and propaganda, as well as on select archival sources, including visual material, in order to illustrate an alleged German obsession pertaining to hygiene, fitness, and good looks in the form of popular knowledge that sometimes competed with conventional medicine: the buergerliche life reform movement, associated with nudism, vegetarianism, and natural therapies. Hau uses frameworks from Mikhail Bakhtin and Pierre Bourdieu to explain individual interpretations of shared social conditions to argue that the experience of this “cult” was distinct according to one’s social background. Here, he focuses on antagonisms within the German middle class, the different strata of the Buergertum so aptly described by Wehler.

This is a history of medicine as well as it is a German history. Hau includes the rise of the medicalization of health and beauty in the Wilhelmine period (chs. 1–5), arguing that taking charge of one’s (in particular men’s) health in scientific terms was a way of regaining agency in an industrializing society with its economic pressures, professional expectations, and an increasingly sedentary life style. The fitness movement was also an overt protest against conservative intellectualism and elitism—even though the aesthetic ideal was borrowed from Greek antiquity.

Hau emphasizes the racialized ideals of beauty around the transition from the German Empire to the Weimar Republic (chs. 6–8), linking his observations to early-20th-century public hygiene and eugenics. Other than Wildenthal, who makes clear that German colonialism did not lay the necessary foundations for the National Socialist catastrophe, Hau tries to show that the roots of Nazi racism are closely tied to turn-of-the-century concerns surrounding health and beauty. But he does so in a highly contextualized manner, for example, in that he explains the necessity of a holistic constitution-based view of body and character, or explains why nudist culture was supposed to end all class but not race distinctions, or links the contempt for “exotic” and lower-class women (p. 5) with contemporary notions of female chastity and rigid gender roles in the face of feminist demands for change. One big difference that Hau identifies between the Nazi ideology and the earlier “cult” is the violent propaganda against static groups of people whereas the ideal in the decades prior to 1933 was “always publicly contested and rarely stable” (p. 8).

It is particularly remarkable that Hau does not forget to talk about the need to assert masculinity against women or individuals from different classes. Race, class, and gender are bound together very well in this study, resonating with the works of Abrams, Allen, and Wildenthal, and making Hau’s social approach to the question of health and beauty very convincing. Furthermore, Hau provides a valuable counterpart to Scott’s ‘paradoxical’ study in that he not only shows how feminists and anti-feminists used the same metaphors but also that class antagonism can radically change the meaning of the same phrase or aesthetic figure, apparently to the extent that it can be fortified and employed to serve the stabilization of a cruel dictatorship.

Judith Surkis’s monograph Sexing the Citizen expands on the topic of masculinity and includes adult men as well as adolescents; a social group defined in the 19th century according to Wehler and Nipperdey, and a matter of concern that Abrams’ account, for example, falls short of. With a similar periodization as Hau, Surkis traces the deliberate “sexing” of male French (and Algerian) citizens by philosophers, sociologists, and policy makers through the early decades of the Third Republic. She illustrates that actively exerting one’s political rights became redefined as not only a republican privilege or obligation but a crucial aspect of masculinity. This sexing of the male with full citizen rights and the female (and child and solider) without was a stable ground on which authorities further advocated for monogamous heterosexual marriage, in order to stabilize the new masculinity in the social realm. In addition, marriage policies were a means of containing male sexuality that was considered “a locus of specific social and political problems” (p. 5; ch. II). Furthermore, Surkis analyzes Emile Durkheim’s argument that conjugal marriage is one of the crucial characteristics of modernity, or at last modern masculinity (Part III). The “public” and the “private spheres” are successfully deconstructed (see Hull’s contradictory argument below).

Surkis draws from a variety of contemporary periodicals and other published primary sources. Her main argument is that the “sexing” of citizens was a sometimes incoherent process that established “sex,” an entity that does, and here she is in line with Michel Foucault, not precede the authorities’ attempts to regulate citizens’ societal roles and sexual behaviors. Like Abrams has shown for European femininity in the same period, Third-Republican masculinity is something that needed to be taught and learnt, for instance, by means of moral education for children (Part I), marriage statistics, sociological assertions of the value of families (Parts II and III), and medical threats of venereal disease (Part IV). Surkis shows that men’s belief in the necessity of heterosexual monogamy and prescribed masculinity as the pillars of the French society was firm, even though individuals occasionally violated these norms; as a result, demographers intervened against bachelorism and sexual deviance was defined as sexual pathology (Part II). Surkis’s assertion of the authorities’ eagerness to police transgressions like these seems particularly logical when read alongside Wildenthal’s account of the threat of the New Woman during these very years.

Anachronistically speaking, George Mosse tied in the accounts of Roberts, Hau, and Surkis in The Image of Man. “Anachronistically speaking,” because it was published up to a decade before any of the three books whose topics it touches upon in explaining the rise of a new and lasting ideal of masculinity from the late 18th century through after WWII. Mosse argues that the new masculinity was a distinctly modern invention, a man-fashioning after absolutism that drew from the aesthetics of ancient Greek infused with conservative ideals of chivalry: strength, balance, morality, and honor. Instead of following on-the-ground negotiations surrounding individual thinkers and concrete campaigns to draw up and stabilize the new image of masculinity in circumscribed spaces, like Surkis does, Mosse directs his spotlight on several locations in the bigger-picture intellectual history of the “(stereo)type” of masculinity that was produced in the most influential states of Europe by a few privileged men (physicians, philosophers, politicians, and the churches). In accordance with Hau, Mosse shows the importance of concepts of holistic health and beauty of a person as well as the racialization and feminization of imperfection or “the countertype” (chs. 4 and 8). He does not, however, provide a detailed analysis of the distinctive appropriation of the new ideal by different sectors of the middle classes in the 19th century. But he illustrates the extent to which the New Woman in the late 19th century, as explained by Roberts, increased the demands for a strong positive masculine stereotype as a conservative counterbalance (ch. 5).

Mosse drew mostly on contemporary fiction, the popular press, and propaganda material as well as on select medical and scientific sources. The account proceeds chronologically. In chapter 2, Mosse argues that the new ideal of manhood was formulated in the second half of the 18th century and found its proponents in philosophy as well as physiognomic and phrenological ideas of harmonious body-character relationships. The “Aryan” type, as already laid out by Hau, fit and young, was the new ideal against which the “type” man was measured, Mosse argues. Curiously enough, the same stereotype was shared by the European states that Mosse described and yet connected to patriotic nationalism for only one’s own home country, an attitude that was even strengthened during wars (chs. 3 and 6). A related ideal type, just with less emphasis on beauty than on strength, was even upheld by socialists (ch. 6). Most performative was the notion of “getting there,” that is, individuals’ belief that self-shaping would lead oneself closer to the ideal, for instance, by doing gymnastics, maturing intellectually, abstaining from sexual deviance, and avoiding all forms of “decadence” (chs. 2 and 5). Mosse shows that neither the bare warrior nor the socialist worker types succeeded in replacing the traditional 18th-century image of masculinity that was unprecedentedly strong in the interwar years, stabilized by formal education, boy scouts, adventure novels, clubs and associations, etc. (ch. 7).

Mosse offers a new interpretation for the Shoah (ch. 8). Tracing the ideal of masculinity to fascism in Italy as well as in Germany, and even going as far as to suggest that “the clean-cut Englishman, the all-American boy, and the ideal member of the SS … shared essentially the same masculine stereotype,” Mosse argues against a teleological history of masculinity that culminates in the mass murders of WWII (p. 180). He argues that fascism and racism overemphasized the warrior aspects of the traditional ideal and that “racism brutalized them and transformed theory and rhetoric into reality” (p. 180). But when the fascist “new man” died after WWII, ideal masculinity, “clean-cut and fit” (p. 181), lived on in the media and in the European imagination (ch. 9).

Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700–1815 is Isabel Hull’s complement of Hunt’s women’s history in 18th-century Europe, detailing the experiences of women and men in Germany as it transitioned from absolutism to a modern state. Hull focuses on the construction of and instruction in sexuality as a state-building measure, the “sexual system,” as she calls it, that is, “the patterned ways in which sexual behavior is shaped and given meaning through institutions” (p. 1). She concerns herself with the construction of modern sexuality—or heteronormativity—by the state and by civil society, two separate spheres by the early 19th century, she argues. Hull makes similar observations as Foucault regarding the permeation of society and state with sexual concerns, but her argument is grounded in an assessment of a wide array of published primary sources as well as archival research, allowing Hull to gain insight into developments in Baden-Baden, Baden-Durlach, Bavaria, Hamburg, and Prussia from 1600 to 1848.

Similar to Abrams’s, Scott’s, and Allen’s concerns, Hull invests lots of energy in assessing the structuring power of dichotomies like public (male) vs. private (female). She argues that the “social disciplining” of the absolutist state permeated every aspect of human life but not the “private sphere”—since this concept did not even exist before the 18th century was well underway (ch. 2). Even when reformers attempted to alleviate coercive punishment for alleged sexual misbehavior and to introduce incentives for moral behavior instead in the late 18th century, the argument that the state should not invite the citizens’ private life was hardly an official concern (ch. 3). This changed with the rise of the cameralists, who held the opinion that the state should not get involved with private matters that can be just as well regulated by an appeal to morality; an obligation to contribute to the common good was the key teaching for the new civil society (ch. 4).

“The practitioners of civil society,” that is, privileged men, started voicing their concerns about the state and society as individuals or collectives in the late 18th century and were gradually acknowledged by the rulers as a sphere separate from the state apparatus (ch. 5). The Enlightenment civil society was conventional in its values—including the belief in deadly sins—and concerned itself with sexual morals as well as debates about gender and the role of women and the extent to which these challenged the freedom of civil society (chs. 6 and 7). Some studies of females grew out of a new appreciation for sex/gender differences; however, Hull explains, “speculation about women was merely a function of the more fundamental task of defining men” (p. 225). The contemporary notion that the repression of the sexual drive until marriage and its heterosexual (re)orientation are intrinsically linked with citizenship and civil rights is strikingly familiar from the literature on sex and gender during the Cold War era.

Hull puts much emphasis on the influence of the churches, showing that the Protestant church was not as progressive as some historical accounts make us believe when it came to sexuality. The church was so important to the development of negative and positive sexual norms that Hull starts her account of “The Christian Church and Sexual Regulation” with the sentence: “In the beginning was the Church” (p. 10), mirroring Nipperdey’s assertions of the importance of Napoleon and Bismarck that had been opposed by Wehler’s remark that there was no revolution in the beginning of German history. Only in response to late-18th-century philosophical theories about women’s crucial function in civil society, namely that they elicit morality in men (ch. 8), could reforms of the civil and/or criminal codes pertaining to sexuality and gender relations be enacted, for example the decriminalization of consensual sexual acts in Bavaria, including homosexual acts, prostitution, and non-reproductive sex (ch. 9), or the prohibition into the paternity of an illegitimate child and thus the de facto decriminalization of fornication in Baden (ch. 10). Despite the alleged liberations, many of these measures underwrote the asymmetry between men and women, strengthened the institution of heterosexual marriage, and only abandoned the idea of the necessarily reproductive meaning of sexual activity, Hull concludes (ch. 11).

Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur’s edited volume The Making of the Modern Body is a more body-centered history of sex/gender making in the 19th century than Hull’s is for the preceding century. The contributors mostly treat France and Victorian England, but an assessment of syphilis in Russia as well as an analysis of Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on Baudelaire’s writings are also in stock. Laqueur and Londa Schiebinger show in their studies about 19th-century reproductive biology and 18th-century anatomy the extent to which scientific knowledge is malleable and can be made to fit political and social concerns of the time. Hull’s observation that women were considered unfit as citizens but predestined for reproduction, for example, is reiterated in Schiebinger’s assessment of the first drawings of female skeletons with wide hips and tiny skulls. Similarly, Laqueur’s illustration of the transition from the one-sex to the two-sex model is a male counterpart to the feminist strategy of employing difference in order to achieve equal rights. Mary Poovey’s chapter on “’Scenes of an Indelicate Character’” elucidates the ways in which women appeared not only to be unfit but even dangerous. Victorian English doctors were very hesitant to anesthetize women during childbirth, Poovey shows, since they were afraid that repressed female desires and unchastity may suddenly erupt from the disinhibited female individual—a clear acknowledgement of the actors’ knowledge that they were oppressing women, I would say.

Prostitution is another prominent topic in this volume, as the three final chapters of the volume show. Laura Engelstein, in her aforementioned contribution about how “Russian Doctors View Syphilis, Social Class, and Sexual Behavior, 1890–1905,” explains the extent to which prostitution was only seen as a problem of the cities, whereas the peasants were perceived as a group of moral purity hat did not need to be coerced but only educated by the state in order to perform the civil duties. Christine Buci-Glucksmann’s chapter on Benjamin and Baudelaire, also mentioned above, argues that the prostitute became “an allegory of modernity itself” (p. xv) as a human commodity. Alain Corbin’s contribution makes clear that ‘the prostitute’, besides her commodification and problematic character in urban life was first and foremost a woman on whose back the evils of society were tried to be contained, an observation that resonates very well with Jann Matlock’s Scenes of Seduction (not on this list).

Reforming the Moral Subject is an analysis of changing sexual values and sexual liberation movements in the German-speaking countries of the late 19th and early 20th century. The so-called ethics reform was brought about by (mostly Jewish and Protestant) intellectuals and activists associated with psychology, philosophy, sociology, law, pedagogy, and eugenics, who borrowed the latest arguments from Darwinism, materialism, and the rising field of sexology. The reform movement was directed against repressive sexual values and institutions that Hull has laid out so clearly and it succeeded in drawing up an “ethical” (Ethik) analytical framework and vocabulary that allowed the reformers to talk about sexual “morality” (Sittlichkeit) with all of its highly intimate concern and its ruthlessly politicized meanings in the public sphere. It is thus a continuation of Hunt’s deconstruction of the private/public divide, or the individual/social distinction and aims at “resurrect[ing] the instability of social categories in order to depict the productivity of that instability” in order to show how fruitfully this instability was seized by contemporary actors (p. 14).

This intellectual history continues the list of accounts of predominantly middle-class individuals’ discontent with sex and gender in central Europe (an exception here is ch. 6 on the rise of the social democrats and their surprising embrace of the ideas of the ethics reform—though not its label). Matysik’s primary source material comprises mostly published works. In the first of three parts, Matysik illuminates the ways in which ethics, as an analytical tool that can aid secular social change, made its way into the German-speaking intellectual realm, institutionalized in the German Society for Ethical Culture (ch. 1), and got associated with the question of sexual mores and the Catholic relict of the Doppelmoral, not least through Helene Stoecker’s work on female sexual liberation and her founding of the League for the Protection of Mothers (ch. 2). Controversies around the recently introduced Civil Code and its discrimination against women and children, already addressed by Allen, were crucial to the early concerns of activists like Stoecker.

In the main part of her work, Matysik traces the associations and controversies between the aforementioned ethics and sexual liberation societies (ch. 3) as well as the global reach of the ethics reform, that is, primary a racialization of the movement and its ideas during European imperialism (ch. 4)—a development not at all surprising when read alongside Wildenthal’s account of the pervasiveness of questions of sex/gender and sexuality in the colonial context. The increasingly close association between ethics reform and sexual liberation reflected and contributed to a pervasive contemporary notion that all moral judgements and debates inevitably have to draw on the question of sexuality, Matysik shows. This theme is unpacked in chapter 5, where Matysik traces the debates surrounding a 1909 proposal to include the “female homosexual” in the German Criminal Code, in addition to the “male homosexual,” a subject Europeans were more familiar with. The controversy supports Scott’s argument that feminists sometimes emphasized sex/gender differences and sometimes similarities to gain equality: some feminists welcomed the proposed paragraph since it would further equalize men and women according to the law. Matysik’s statement “that ethics reform as a critical phenomenon died under the weight of politics, or rather became conflated with politics,” during and after WWI (p. 252) makes us wonder whether social and intellectual movements or wars have more power to change women’s rights.

Scott Spector et al.’s edited volume After the History of Sexuality reassesses Foucault’s account of The History of Sexuality in German-speaking Europe from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The contributors attempt to not only extend and correct Foucault’s view on the making and disciplining of sexuality; they particularly aim at ending Foucaultianism, which in the editors’ view has hindered fruitful complements to Foucault’s sometimes static definitions and questionable periodization.

The contributions of the volume are short and many (20 incl. the Postscript), most of them with significant historiographical foundations as well as strong analytical and theoretical frameworks. Ulinka Rublack suggests that the allegedly 19th-century view, so aptly described by Matysik, that sexual desire is inherently human and that the morality of a person is inextricably bound with their sexual behavior was in fact a distinct development of Lutheranism, which brought about a new embodied notion of personhood, the need for a morality that could not regained by confession, and, thus, the need for public regulations of sexual behavior (ch. 3). Sexuality was thus defined as a political entity two centuries before Foucault assumed it was (ch. 2).

Several contributions in this volume attend to lesbians, a topic touched upon by Roberts, but not unpacked in detail by any of the aforementioned scholars. We are presented with the view, for instance, that a history of homosexuality must attend to lesbianism, a topic that Foucault mostly avoided (ch. 1); more concretely, the reader learns about the ways in which new sexological theories enabled lesbians to phrase their own identity in imperial Germany (ch. 6), and the intimate connection of shame and pleasure in the rising outings of lesbian behavior and identities in the Weimar Republic (ch. 10).

Taking seriously Foucault’s view of power as a two-way process, Robert Beachy elucidates the ways in which the police in imperial Germany (Berlin’s Department of Blackmailers and Homosexuals) did not only surveil but also protect the gay community. Policing was thus not only oppression and control as Hull and Surkis suggest, but at the same time lowered the odds of being blackmailed (a topic very familiar from Cold War times) by homosexual prostitutes; effectively, this ‘surveillance’ helped the gay community to gain more visibility, institutionally, socially, as well as in the media (ch. 7). Julia Roos shows similar agency in female prostitutes during the Weimar Republic (ch. 9). Empowered by their recently gained suffrage, a newly formed union, and the public press, officially registered prostitutes protested against the criminalization of their profession, the closure of brothels, their social and legal marginalization, restrictions of residence and movement, as well as compulsory health checks and potential forced hospitalizations. They were partially successful in asserting authority over their work and bodies and changed the landscape of German policing of sexuality.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Tabea Cornel (April 3, 2016). More Book Summaries on European History—and How These Relate to My Proposed Dissertation. The Semipermeable Membrane. Retrieved July 23, 2024 from

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