May 31, 2013

What They’re Reading: Magnus Hirschfeld, And Other Treasures

Katie Sutton studies the intersection of psychoanalysis and sexology. She is reading through archives from the Kinsey library.

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Katie Sutton with transvestite magazine, 1920's Germany

Katie Sutton with transvestite magazine, 1920's Germany

I am visiting the Kinsey Institute library from the University of Melbourne to do some research for a book project that looks at how the history of sexology and psychoanalysis were intertwined from the early 1900s, when Sigmund Freud¹s first major studies of sexuality appeared, right through to Kinsey’s major sexual behavioral studies of the American public in the 1940s and 1950s.  I began by looking at the library’s important Magnus Hirschfeld collection. As well as being one of Germany”s most significant sexologists in the first decades of the 20th century, Hirschfeld was famous as a leader of the contemporary homosexual rights movement, and his Institute for Sexual Science in interwar Berlin was one of the first victims of the Nazi ransacking and book burnings in 1933. The Kinsey Institute has several scrapbooks on Hirschfeld¹s activities that were compiled by a Dr Th. Hoefft of Hamburg in the 1910s and 1920s, who himself was a member of the Hirschfeld-led homosexual rights organization Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific Humanitarian Committee), founded in 1897. As well as medical case histories, court documents, and early homosexual magazines, I was excited to find some very rare documents that I haven’t been able to find anywhere in Europe, including an issue of one of the first transvestite magazines produced anywhere, the 1920s periodical The Third Sex (Das 3. Geschlecht).

I have also been reading through the papers of British sexologist Havelock Ellis, and through Alfred Kinsey’s correspondence with post-war psychoanalysts and sexologists such as Harry Benjamin, who is famous for his work with transsexual surgeries and clinics in the post-WWII era. The Kinsey Institute has a wonderful collection of correspondence and other materials that help to tell the story of how sexology took off as a discipline in its own right, and how it has changed over the course of the 20th century.

Dr Katie Sutton is an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow in German Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia