The Contemporary Afterlives of Sexual Science

By Veronika Fuechtner, co-editor, with Douglas E. Haynes and Ryan M. Jones, of A Global History of Sexual Science, 1880–1960

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


Currently laws and practices relating to sex, gender and sexuality are experiencing momentous shifts on a global scale – be it in the upcoming referendum on abortion in Ireland, the recent recognition of a “third sex” in Germany, last year’s ruling of India’s supreme court that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, or the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia a month ago.  These shifts are usually presented as shifts based on changed social experiences, but they also are based in significant shifts in scientific understandings of sexuality.

Investigating the history of the global traffic of scientific ideas on sexuality has shown us how deeply entrenched particular scientific assumptions about masculinity and femininity still are, e.g., the connection of homosexuality with effeminacy, the hunt for bodily signs for what were considered deviant sexualities, the assumption that monogamy was natural, or the notion that a woman was not to be in charge of her own sexual and/or reproductive life.

Our book A Global History of Sexual Science emerged out of the recognition that these assumptions did not simply migrate from the “West” to the “rest,” but that they were the result of complex, mutually constitutive interactions and global networks.  The field of sexual science emerged not just in Europe and North America but in a variety of global locations, such as India, Chile, or China.  Its proponents in different parts of the world were intensely aware of each other and interacted through publications, conferences, or travel. Moreover, proponents of sexual science in Europe and North America adopted notions forged in exchange with actors in Asia, Latin America and Africa, e.g., the US practice of gender reassignment surgery was heavily influenced by earlier Mexican cases or the German legal understanding of homosexuality was tested and contested in its colonial African courts.  Our book draws attention to many figures who have been forgotten in contemporary work on sexuality or sexual science.  Some of these figures drew from the repressive legal, social and cultural discourses that limited sexual expression and gave the ideological grounds to discrimination and persecution.  But others – and they were at times the very same figures – connected to the liberating discourses, the power of which we are experiencing today.


Veronika Fuechtner is Associate Professor of German at Dartmouth College and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine. She is the author of Berlin Psychoanalytic and coeditor of Imagining Germany Imagining Asia. 

Douglas E. Haynes is Professor of History at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India and Small Town Capitalism in Western India and coeditor of Contesting Power and Towards a History of Consumption in South Asia.

Ryan M. Jones is Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Geneseo and the author of a forthcoming book on Mexican sexuality entitled Erotic Revolutions.


Beyond Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in the Global Square

This post is published during the American Historical Association conference in Washington, D.C. (Jan. 4-7).  

 

 

Now more than ever, discussions of race, ethnicity, and nationalism must take a global perspective. Cultures, histories, and societies are racialized as more and more people cross borders. The boundaries of each nation are no longer geographical; instead, we find that one culture can profoundly affect another.

The Global Square

The Global Square Series features volumes focused on how regions and countries interact with the rest of the contemporary world. Each volume analyzes the tensions, inequalities, and challenges inherent in global relationships. Drawing on work by journalists, artists, and academics from a range of disciplines—from the humanities to the sciences, from history to public health to literature—these collections showcase essays on the histories, cultures, and societies of countries and regions as they develop in conjunction with and contradiction of other geographic centers.

Latin America

In Jeffrey Lesser’s and Matthew C. Gutmann’s Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century, volume contributors share impact of Latin America on the rest of the world, with the editors using Che Guevara as a small example of how Latin American countries impact our global culture, economy, and politics.

 

 

 

Africa

And in Judith Byfield’s and Dorothy Hodgson’s Global Africa: Into the Twenty-First Century, volume contributors discuss the entangled histories of the region, with the editors bringing to light the racialized divide within Africa—and encouraging how to go beyond it.

 

 

Visit UC Press booth #430 for a 40% discount at #AHA18! And learn more about the Global Square Series.


Peasants, Oil, and the Origins and End of the Disastrous Twentieth Century, 1870-1960

By Edward Ross Dickinson, author of The World in the Long Twentieth Century: An Interpretive History

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


In 1930 a professor of demographics at Miami University in Ohio, Warren S. Thompson, published a provocative short book titled Population Problems. Thompson was director of the Scripps Foundation for Research in Population Problems, a position he had been given on the basis of his earlier work on the political implications of world demographic trends. In Population Problems, Thompson offered a rather startling prediction and proposal. “[T]he only way to avoid war” with Japan, Germany, and Italy, he argued, was simply to give Japan and Italy land and resources in Asia and North Africa; and in the case of Germany “the way out is probably more difficult, but if only a tithe of the cost of the next war . . . were devoted to finding a way to avoid it . . . , much could be done to ease the present strains.” The author was not very hopeful that any of this would be done, however. The implication was clear: war with Germany, Italy, and Japan was pretty well inevitable.

In 1930 the Japanese seizure of Manchuria was still a year away; the Nazi seizure of power in Germany was still three years away, and the invasion of Poland nine; the Italian invasion of Ethiopia was still five years in the future. There was no Axis alliance of Italy, Germany, and Japan. The world was sliding ever deeper into the Great Depression. How did Thompson know so exactly what was coming?

The reason is simple: Thompson lived in western Ohio. Western Ohio was historically a crucial part of the heart of the food industry in the United States; and it was near the epicenter of the early oil industry in the USA. Thompson developed an elaborate theory regarding population pressure and the likelihood of war. But that understanding was fundamentally shaped by the fact that he also understood agriculture; he understood oil; and he understood that these were the issues over which World War I had been fought—and over which the next world war would be fought.

The world wars of the mid-twentieth century were in fact responses to two key constraints in the world economy: the relatively low productivity of agriculture, and the differential access of major states to the critical energy resource of the modern industrial economy, petroleum.

This is not to say that World War I was not a giant struggle between imperial states, or that World War II was not a titanic ideological struggle between three modern ideologies—liberal democracy, fascism, and communism. It is also not to say that World War II was not decisively shaped by the idea of “race.” All three things are true. But seen from the perspective of global history—from “60,000 feet,” so to speak—both were wars over food and oil.

With respect to oil, numerous historians have pointed out in recent years that the struggle over access to oil—particularly in the Middle East—was an important contributor to the origins of World War I. That first war was in large part a war over the fate of the territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire, including what are today Iraq, Kuwait, and all the states of the Arabian Peninsula. And the grand strategy of German, Japan, and Italy in World War II was shaped—fatefully, as it turned out—by one critical problem: while the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain had direct or indirect control of plentiful supplies of oil (in the Caucasus region, in California, in Indonesia, in the Persian Gulf region, and in Latin America), these three rapidly industrializing states did not. This was why Japan turned south from the conquest of China to seize French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia); it is why the Nazi Armies turned south from Petrograd and Moscow to push into the Caucuses region; and it is why Italy and Germany launched their short-lived attempt to conquer Egypt from Libya. In each case, these campaigns over-extended the military capacities of these regimes. They would very likely have been defeated anyway, given the enormous industrial superiority of the Allies; but the war had the geographic “shape” it did because of oil.

But while by the 1920s it was clear that oil was the crucial foundation of military power in the short run, in the long run the Axis regimes could only build empires massive enough to stand up to their continent-spanning rivals (the USA, the USSR, and the British Empire) on the foundation of an agricultural sector rich and extensive enough to feed a gigantic industrial population. It was therefore a central problem for each of them that the productivity of agriculture had not risen, in the previous century, remotely as rapidly as the productivity of industry. Wheat yields per hectare in Western Europe, for example, had risen only by about half between 1880 and 1930; in contrast, production of steel had increased around fifteen-fold. Rice yields in Japan rose by less than one eighth between 1910 and 1930, while steel production rose more than twenty-fold. In that context, more food meant more land. And the Soviet Union and China occupied the greatest areas of agricultural land outside North America. Both the Japanese and the Nazi regimes set out to conquer that land, on the assumption that they could displace murder or expel the subsistence farmers (peasants) who occupied a great deal of the land in each case, and transform these areas into export-oriented commercial farming regions as the foundation of industrial growth in the imperial heartland. Italy made similar, though less explicit and ambitious, calculations regarding North Africa.

The two world wars, then, were a struggle for world power in which the two key determinants of victory appeared to be food and energy. Along with the economic and social pressures that generated the titanic revolutions and civil wars of the period (in Mexico, Russia, and China, for example), it was this struggle that made the early twentieth century probably the most murderous period in human history.

Why, then, was the later twentieth century not so murderous? Since 1950 world population has grown faster than at any time in human history or prehistory; world wealth per capita has too; world life-expectancy has lengthened radically as mortality rates have plummeted almost everywhere; average world health and education have improved drastically and rapidly. Repeated, spectacularly murderous episodes—most devastating in Cambodia or Rwanda, for example—are reminders of the terrifying destructive potentials of modern military and social technologies. But clearly those potentials have, thus far, largely been held at bay.

How that happened has everything to do with oil and peasants. The World in the Long Twentieth Century explains how those two “problems” were solved, and how durable the solutions developed in the second half of the twentieth century might be. It also suggests that these problems might in fact be twentieth-century problems which, for fundamentally important reasons, will not be problems of the twenty-first century. That may or may not be comforting, however; it might be preferable to live in a world whose central problems have been solved, rather than in a world whose central problems have not yet been defined.


Edward Ross Dickinson is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of The Politics of German Child Welfare;  Sex, Freedom, and Power in Imperial Germany; and Dancing in the Blood: Modern Dance and European Culture on the Eve of the First World War.


Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Reproductive Perspective

By Laura Briggs, author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


As these years of an acute sense of crisis on the left roll on, I find myself wondering if reproductive politics—at least as encapsulated in my recent book, How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics—is the right subject for these times. From Cornel West’s takedown of Ta-Nehisi Coates to the soul-searching among my Leftbook crew about the failures of the Bernie Sanders campaign, surely the silence we most urgently need to disrupt is about empire, US and otherwise. As Naomi Klein and Opal Tometi recently wrote in The Intercept (in a piece you must read if you haven’t, reframing the rather silly West vs. Coates fight into something much more urgent and important):

“There is no radicalism — Black or otherwise — that ends at the national boundaries of our countries, especially the wealthiest and most heavily armed nation on earth. From the worldwide reach of the financial sector to the rapidly expanding battlefield of U.S. Special Operations to the fact that carbon pollution respects no borders, the forces we are all up against are global. So, too, are the crises we face, from the rise of white supremacy, ethno-chauvinism, and authoritarian strongmen to the fact that more people are being forced from their homes than at any point since World War II. If our movements are to succeed, we will need both analysis and strategies that reflect these truths about our world.”

Empire is my natural first language (as I wrote in books here and here), so why am I carrying around the first book I have written exclusively about the United States at a time when we so urgently need to talk about empire?

Nevertheless, it strikes me that reproductive politics might actually be a powerful way to talk about US empire, most obviously in how it relies on the work of race, nationalism, and the expansion of free market fundamentalism within the borders of the US—and hence, beyond them. I use reproductive politics in the older, socialist feminist sense in which the domain of the “reproductive” is that which is not “productive” in the capitalist sense. Another layer of meaning comes from Black and other women of color feminists in the US like Loretta Ross who speak of “reproductive justice” as not just the politics of whether or not to have children, but also the means to raise them—housing, jobs, food systems, freedom from police brutality, high-quality schools, and the like.

In the War-on-Poverty sixties, government and political movements alike agreed that it was a shared, collective responsibility to make sure that these things were available to all. That was never a promise that was kept, but the power of mid-century social movements was that they could appeal to a shared sense that government and business, alongside religious institutions and neighbors, owed this to the people of a nation. That optimistic sense of what it meant to belong to a society was taken up even more robustly by decolonization and socialist movements outside the US, with their calls for land reform, price controls for staple goods, collective child care, and state-run health care and social security. In the book, I show how the libertarian wind that blew across the country with Reagan (and Thatcher) relied centrally on a racism that was about moral disapproval of others’ families to persuade a majority of people that they not only would accept a smaller social safety net and reduced real wages for all but the top 1%, but wanted such a thing—from associating government transfer payments with (implicitly Black, explicitly immoral) “welfare mothers” to the waves of immigrant deportations that followed Clinton’s “Nannygate,” to lenders who targeted Black and immigrant women in particular for subprime mortgages, and the launching of the Tea Party movement as a claim that the Obama administration was going to bail out “losers’ mortgages” (it didn’t, but that’s another story). The foreclosure crisis was a kind of welfare reform redux, but it unabashedly took down great swathes of the middle class, not just poor folks.

But of course, as the book shows, the place where the US government learned all these moves was in the Third World, where it used debt as a club to undue the kinds of expansive ways that people had imagined the relationship of its people, as structural adjustment programs that operated principally in the realm of relations of reproductive labor–closing hospitals and schools, ending food subsidies, reducing the number of government jobs, and drastically contracting the role of the state in deeply libertarian ways. These were the “reforms” that drove migrants to the US to do nanny work in the first place. They too were accomplished through racism, through a set of claims about the lazy, spendthrift Third World, and could only be secured by closing borders so that those allegedly indolent workers didn’t cross borders to get new jobs as their home economies contracted brutally. These deeply unpopular economic changes, not surprisingly, brought authoritarian rulers to power.

The second conversation that the book is, I hope, contributing to, is about the work of whiteness and evangelical Christianity in producing a certain kind of highly exportable reactionary formation. Thanks to Margaret Atwood and the television series The Handmaids Tale, we can call it Gilead—an authoritarian regime that centers a white/ethno-chauvinist reproduction in nuclear families at the expense of women’s rights, queers, transgender folk, Although Phyllis Schlafly and the rise of right-wing “family values” women caught our attention in the 1980s, many commentators seem to have forgotten about them, and are mystified by the fact that a majority of US white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and Roy Moore in 2017. Meanwhile, these folks have never been closer to power, from Jeff Sessions campaign for “religious freedom” from his perch as attorney general, a campaign to ensure that US law “will never demand that sincere [Christian] beliefs be abandoned,” even or especially if that means denying the right to contraception, birth control, non-heterosexual marriage, or, god forbid, for trans people to use the bathroom. Mike Pence has campaigned for “conversion therapy” for gay folks, an end to abortion rights for women, and has worked to eliminate maternity and prenatal care for poor folks through the failed Republican American Health Care Act and his work to stop Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. Betsy DeVos has begun the systematic transfer of education dollars from public schools to private and charter schools. A host of people at the Department of Health and Human Services have mounted campaigns insisting that birth control doesn’t work and most women who say they are raped are lying.

This political formation, which was launched as anti-feminist and anti-gay, has deep alliances with racist ethno-nationalisms and free market fundamentalism. It is also a profoundly transnational project, traveling first with evangelical Christian missionaries in the Reagan and Bush ersa from Africa to Latin America, and subsequently through Catholic circles. Most famously, the person most associated with the Guatemalan genocide, Efrían Ríos Montt, was a pastor in the Church of the Word from Reagan’s California. The Ugandan “kill the gays bill,” the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 was engineered by Massachusetts pastor Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries, who has also been active in Latvia and Russia. These kinds of conservative Christian political formations followed the opposite trajectory as structural adjustment programs: from the United States to the region we used to call the third world. But in both instances, reproductive and kinship politics become economics and state policy. In a phrase, they’ve all become reproductive politics.


Laura Briggs is Professor and Chair of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of several books on gender and empire, including Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico and, most recently, Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption. She also serves as an editor for the University of California Press American Crossroads series.

Read her previous UC Press blog posts on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and debates over DACA.


Visit Us at AHA. Save 40% on Our History Titles

If you’re headed to the 2018 meeting of the American Historical Association this week in Washington, D.C. (Jan. 4-7), be sure to visit UC Press at booth #430 for a 40% discount on our new and notable History titles. From searing critiques of power and wealth, to in-depth world policy investigations, and absorbing histories of race and social justice, our History titles offer a wide variety of subjects appropriate for your research and classroom use.

Take early advantage of the conference discount and start saving today. Visit our AHA page to browse these titles and more.

Throughout the conference, follow along for our AHA blog series as we share author guest posts. #AHA18