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Sex, sexuality & reproduction: historical perspectives, 32nd Irish Conference of Historians

26th April - 28th April

The 32nd Irish Conference of Historians will take place at University College Cork, Thursday 26-Saturday 28 April, 2018. The theme of the conference will be Sex, sexuality & reproduction: historical perspectives.

The Rethinking Sexology team are organising a panel “New perspectives on sexual science (1890-1960)”. 

Panel abstract:

The study of the history of sexology is rapidly expanding. In recent years two major collections have in particular increased our understanding of the global development and exchange of sexological knowledge, by looking at the way in which “sexual science […] simultaneously emerged in multiple sites and […] took multiple shapes” (Fuechtner et al, A Global History of Sexual Science, 2018) and how the “intersections between national and transnational contexts, between science and culture, and between discourse and experience, shaped modern sexuality” (Bauer, Sexology and Translation, 2015).

This panel will consider further ways in which we might understand the complex and shifting conceptions of the “science” of sex from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. All three speakers on the proposed panel are early career researchers on a Wellcome-funded research project ‘Rethinking Sexology’ at the University of Exeter, which is seeking to reconsider the emergence of the scientific study of human sexuality. In particular its critiques the assumption that ‘sexology’ existed as a clearly understood and primarily medical field of knowledge.

Each paper in this panel will focus on a new or as yet undeveloped way of framing the history of sexology. Together they consider new audiences and producers of sexological knowledge; new legitimate forms of evidence for ‘scientific’ research outside of the ‘medical’; and new geographical locations for sexological activities that have been overlooked or undervalued in previous scholarship. The panel will seek to encourage a discussion about how historians define and set boundaries on ‘sexology’ and ‘sexual science’ – within the context of a conference considering the changing historicization of ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’ more broadly – and consider the wider question of how knowledge and expertise around sex were conceived of in the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth.

Individual papers:

‘The Mysteries of Sex Frankly Revealed!’: Popular Sexology in Print before 1940.

Dr Sarah Jones, University of Exeter

Much of the existing research into the history of sexual science in the west has tended to focus on key sexological figures and the dissemination or appropriation of their scientific work. Particular attention has been paid to their work exploring the pathologies of perversion, and their attempts made to categorise and define non-normative sexual ‘types’. These histories, often centring on the work of men like Iwan Bloch, Havelock Ellis, and Magnus Hirschfeld, frequently take place in elite medical spaces – the hospital, the psychiatrist’s office, or the sexological institute.

But sexology had another life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Through the pages of popular magazines like Sexology, Marriage Hygiene, and Physical Culture, through mass produced sex advice texts, and through the work of outspoken sex reformers, British and American publics were fed a steady diet of ‘thoroughly scientific’ information about issues surrounding sex and marriage. In this paper I will explore this popular sexology, dedicated to tips on achieving happy and healthy sex lives, as well as discussing what a good, normal marriage might look like. In doing so I will argue that scientific attempts to define the boundaries of ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ sexuality at this time were not just being undertaken by an elite set of sexologists in medical spaces, but were also taking place amongst the producers and consumers of these popular texts.

Sexologists as collectors of historical erotica in the first half of the twentieth century.

Dr Jen Grove, University of Exeter

Growing scholarly attention is being given to the way in which history, and especially the classical past, informed new sexological concepts in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. For instance, the publication of Sexual Inversion (1896/1897) by Havelock Ellis and Classical scholar John Addington Symonds, which drew on ancient Greek practices in order to defend contemporary male same-sex desire but also to think through the challenges of creating a paradigm which meant such desire could be treated as neither a disease nor a crime in Victorian society.

But as well as historical texts, many sexual scientists were significantly interested in material and visual culture from the past. It is well known that Sigmund Freud made use of his substantial collection of Egyptian and other ancient artefacts in his psychoanalytical theory and practice. But Magnus Hirschfeld and Alfred Kinsey were also avid collectors of historical erotic art and artefacts. This paper will consider what role physical evidence of historical sexual practices, desires and customs played in the study of sex and the method of comparing past and present cultures. How did displays of historical artefacts at sexological clinics, laboratories and other spaces of sexual science relate to sexology’s varied aims to research, educate, campaign and treat? And how did sexological concerns inform the wider acquisition of antiquities which was still growing the museums of Europe and America in this period? I will consider how the pursuit of collecting sat alongside the scientist’s work of gathering statistical and other types of data and by what mechanisms they sought to maintain scientific authority in the face of acquisitions of being collectors of antique “pornography” or “obscenity”. To what extent and how were diverse visual representations of sex from the past rationalised within the project of writing the “science” of sexuality?

‘On the margins of Freudism’: Stanisław Kurkiewicz and early sexology in Poland.

TJ Zawadzki, University of Exeter

This paper examines Polish sexology in the late nineteenth century and the turn of the twentieth century, focusing on the work of Stanisław Teofil Kurkiewicz (1867-1921), a Krakow-based physician who specialized in sexology. Despite its centrality in European intellectual cultures, Poland is often overlooked by historians of sexuality.

Kurkiewicz, considered by some to be the pioneer of Polish sexology, developed his vision of a Polish sexological project in multiple published volumes, stirred controversy among professional circles of Polish psychoanalysts and physicians, caught the attention of reviewers and publishers abroad, and contributed to wider European debates about sex, such as Magnus Hirschfeld’s discussion on masturbation.

In this paper I will explore the ways in which Kurkiewicz’s model of sexuality merges psychoanalytical theories of the unconscious with the emerging science of sex. I consider whether the responses from other professionals to this work reflect the tensions between sexology and psychoanalysis as competing fields seeking authority on human sexuality both in Poland and beyond. While, in places like the United Kingdom scholars see the psychoanalytical and sexological projects as distinctly separate, I ask whether this relationship is more complex in the Polish sexual scientific context.

I analyze how the combination of psychoanalysis and sexology that Kurkiewicz promoted is then reconciled with religious dogma that was at the core of his identity as a sexologist. Are the ways in which he approached sexology, psychoanalysis, and religion mimicking any similar developments in Western scientific circles, or is it a unique negotiation of the three? Pertinent to the European history of sexology, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry, this offers an outlook on how Kurkiewicz – aware of the influence of Western Europe on science – navigated towards a distinct and localized sexological project and identity. Can his work help inform our understanding of the larger European sexological exchange?

For further details please see the conference website and flyer Irish Conference of Historians 2018 CFP

Details

Start:
26th April
End:
28th April
Event Category:
Website:
http://www.historians.ie/cfp-32nd-irish-conference-of-historians/

Venue

University College Cork