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From Sappho to De Sade: moments in the history of sexuality

Bremmer, J. 1989 s.n.213 p.

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  • Jan Bremmer
Why was a homosexual relationship between two adults unacceptable in ancient Greece? Why did the prohibition of incest extend to the limits of kinship in the Middle Ages? Why was the nineteenth century terrified of masturbation? Why have the brothels with their madams virtually disappeared-in-western Europe? Psychiatrists like Freud and biologists like Kinsey would have been taken aback by these kinds of intriguing questions. Surely, people do 'it' now in the same way as they always have? ' Their approach was understandable for a time in which historians had not yet made sexuality an object of research. In fact, it is virtually only in the last decade that historians have started to study sexual practices, a field that has been all too long the playground of psychologists, biologists, and doctors with their (often wrong) ideas. And it is only now becoming possible to see that sexuality is not a biological constant but an ever-changing phenomenon, that is being continuously shaped by people themselves. Historians, therefore, should not only pay attention to the social, economic, or religious sides of sexuality but they should 1 also, as Gert Hekma argues in his contribution to this book, : become interested in the preliminaries of sexual behaviour, in the design of sexual manners, and in the choreography and architecture of sexuality. Only then shall we have a reasonably firm basis for our opinions on this fascinating side of human existence. This collection of studies is intended as a contribution to the historical debate on sexuality that is only now getting under way. The origin of the book lies in the largest historical congress that has ever taken place in Holland: 'Balance and perspective; on the nature and function of the knowledge of the past' (22-4 May 1986). At this congress, organized on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the State University of Utrecht by a group of students from the Institute for History, numerous seminars were given on the most diverse aspects of history; the seminar on sexuality was assigned to the editor of this volume. He thought it a compelling task to illustrate the historical character of sexuality. For that reason, he made up the programme in such a way that successive papers discussed various aspects of sexuality in successive periods. When this plan attracted much attention during the congress and gave rise to many lively discussions, it seemed no more than reasonable to make the lectures accessible to a wider public. For this book all the papers have been revised and, in addition, some new contributions have been invited in order to give as varied as possible a picture of the history of sexuality. Successive contributors discuss homosexuality and lesbian love in antiquity, incest in the Middle Ages, sexual education and instruction in the Dutch Republic, voyeurism and French rococo art, de Sade, prostitution in fin-de-siècle Vienna, and mannish women of the Balkan mountains; an analysis of the rise of sexology closes the collection.
Original languageEnglish
Publishers.n.
Number of pages213
StatePublished - 1989

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