Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s Showtime!


The time that I’ve been dreading is upon me: I started my PhD qualifying exams this week.  I took my written exam for Modern European History on Tuesday, and I’ll write my exam for the History of Sexuality on Monday.  A week later, I’ll do my last written exam, in Modern German History.  And then I’ll have two days to recoup and take my oral exams in front of all three professors at once.

In order to prepare for these exams, I read 137 books and articles in the past 9 months and wrote a two-page summary of each one (that’s a picture of most of the books up there!).  I’ve had a couple of professors tell me that you’ll know the most stuff that you’ll ever know during your reading/exam year.  You’ll never read as broadly after that because you’ll just start specializing and defining your expertise in a random niche somewhere.  After this reading year, I’m not even sure if I’m all that much smarter; I think my brain is just a little more fried is all.

Below is my book list.  Some of them are hyperlinks to the book summary that I’ve posted in the past.  If you want my opinion (or want to share yours!) on any of the books, let me know:

Modern European History

Session I: Contextualizing Europe

Session II:  Nationalism & Nation Building

Session III: Science & Society in the 19th Century

Session IV:  the “Fin-de-Siécle:” Culture & Society around 1900 

Session V:  European Mass Culture in the Context of Global War

Session VI: Life Under Totalitarian Regimes

Session VII:  Writing Modern European History


Modern German History

I: Surveys & the Sonderweg 

II: The German Question 

III:  The Nature of the Kaiserreich 

IV: World War One 

V: Weimar 

VI: Nazi Germany

  • Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler:  Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany
  • Ian Kershaw, Hitler (both volumes)
  • Detlev Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life
  • Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland:  Women, the Family and Nazi Politics
  • Karl Bracher, The German Dictatorship:  The Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism
  • Martin Broszat, The Hitler State:  The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich

VII: After 1945

  • Herman Weber, Geschichte der DDR
  • Eckart Conze, Die Suche nach Sicherheit
  • Uta Poigert, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels:  Cold War Politics and American Culture in Divided Germany
  • Konrad Jarausch & Michael Geyer, Shattered Past:  Reconstructing German Histories
  • Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory: the Nazi Past in the Two Germanys
  • Richard Evans, “The New Nationalism and the Old History: Perspectives on the West German Historikerstreit” in The Journal of Modern History.  Vol. 59, No. 4 (Dec. 1987): 761-797

VIII: History of Jews in Germany

  • Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto:  the Social Background of Jewish Emancipation, 1770-1870
  • Marion Kaplan, the Making of the Jewish Middle Class:  Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany
  • Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men:  Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
  • Raul Hilberg, the Destruction of the European Jews (3 Volumes)   
  • Henry Friedlander, the Origins of Nazi Genocide:  From Euthanasia to the Final Solution

The History of Sexuality

I: Theory

II: General Overviews

III: European Sexuality

IV: German Sexuality

  • Fenemore,  Mark.  “The Recent Historiography of Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Germany” in The Historical Journal, Vol. 52, Issue 03, (Sept. 2009):  763-779.
  • Spector, Scott, Helmut Puff, and Dagmar Herzog, eds. After the History of Sexuality (2012)
  • Jensen, Erik.  Body by Weimar:  Athletes, Gender, and German Modernity (2010)
  • Crouthamel, Jason. “Male Sexuality and Psychological Trauma: Soldiers and Sexual Disorder in World War I and Weimar Germany.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 17, no. 1 (January 2008): 60-84.
  • Fout, John C. “Sexual Politics in Wilhelmine Germany: The Male Gender Crisis, Moral Purity and Homophobia.” In Forbidden History: The State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe, edited by John C. Fout, 259-92, (1992)
  • Giles, Geoffrey J. “The Institution of Homosexual Panic in the Third Reich.” In Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany, edited by Robert Gellately & Nathan Stoltzfus (2001)
  • Heineman, Elizabeth D. What Difference Does a Husband Make: Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany (1999).
  • Koonz, Claudia. Mothers in the Fatherland. Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (1986)
  • Herzog, Dagmar. Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany (2007).
  • Whisnant, Clayton J.  Male Homosexuality in West Germany:  Between Persecution and Freedom, 1945-69 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012).

V: US American Sexuality

  • D’Emilio, John & Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters:  A History of Sexuality in America. Third Edition (University of Chicago:  2012)
  • Berube, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (2000)
  • Duggan, Lisa. “The Trials of Alice Mitchell: Sensationalism, Sexology, and the Lesbian Subject in Turn-of-the-Century America,” Signs 18 (Summer 1993).
  • Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-century America, (1991)
  • Johnson, David K. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (2006)
  • Meyerowitz, Joanne. How Sex Changed:  A History of Transsexuality in the United States (2004)
  • Rupp, Leila.  A Desired Past: A Short History of Same Sex Love in America, (2001)
  • Somerville, Siobhan B.  “Scientific Racism & the Emergence of the Homosexual Body” in the Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 5, No. 2. (Oct., 1994): 243-266
  • Stryker, Susan. Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback, (2001)
  • Amrstrong, E., Forging Gay Identities:  Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco, 1950-1994, (University of Chicago: 2002).
  • Kevin Mumford, Interzones:  Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century (1997)
  • Chad Heap, Slumming:  Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 (2010)
  • Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (1995)
  • Kennedy, Elizabeth and Madeline Davis. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community, (1993)
  • Johnson, Patrick.  Sweet Tea:  Black Gay Men of the South, (2008)

VI: Gay Rights Movements in the US

  • Stein, Marc.  Rethinking the Gay & Lesbian Movement, (Routledge, 2012).
  • Canaday, Margot.  The Straight State:  Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America, (Princeton Press, 2009)
  • D’Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970, (1983)
  • Meeker, Martin.  “Behind the Mask of Respectability:  Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and the Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s.”  Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Jan. 2001):  78-116.
  • Brandt, Eric.  Dangerous Liaisons: Blacks & Gays and the Struggle for Equality, (New Press: 1999).
  • Armstrong, Elizabeth & S.M. Crage.  “Movements and Memory:  The Making of the Stonewall Myth,” in American Sociological Review Vol. 71, No. 5 (2006):  724-751.
  • Avila-Saavedra, G.  The Construction of Queer Memory:  Media Coverage of Stonewall 25.  Paper delivered at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, San Francisco.  Accessed at
  • Chasin, Alexandra.  Selling Out:  The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (Palgrave, 2000).
  • Gallo, Marcia,  Different Daughters:  A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement, (Carroll & Graf: 2006).
  • White, Todd.  Pre-Gay L.A.:  A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights (University of Illinois, 2009).

Just for Fun

I did get a chance – usually on the bus and train on the way to work and back home – to read some novels just for fun:

  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • Habibi by Craig Thompson (the first graphic novel I’ve read – it was fantastic)
  • The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (one of the most depressing and upsetting things I’ve ever read)
  • Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (I started this one and trudged on until I was about halfway through, but then I did something that I’ve never done before: stopped reading it half-way through. Just that bad.)
  • Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (this was his debut novel, and I really enjoyed it)
  • Eden at the Edge of Midnight by John Kerry
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (I’m in the middle of this one now and am loving it!)
Categories: Book Review, History, Nerdgasm | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transgender History

Stryker - Transgender History


Stryker, Susan.  Transgender History.  Berkley: Seal Press, 2008. 

Subject:  Stryker’s book is an introductory survey to transgender history, presenting some of the basic understandings of transgender identities, as well as providing a narrative of history involving transgender individuals.

Summary & Author’s Main Argument(s):  Stryker begins by briefly defining twenty key terms that she feels are necessary to understand before she begins her narrative of transgender history.  The most important of these are sex, gender, secondary sex characteristics, transgender, gender identity disorder,&  gender identity. Sex is something that is perceived to be biologically determined (and represented by genitalia), so: male & female.  Gender is historically specific and socially constructed, and this is “man” and “woman,” and thus is not necessarily determined by a relationship to the physical body.   Secondary sex characteristics are “bodily “signs” that others read to guess at our sex, attribute gender to us, and assign us to the social category they understand to be most appropriate for us…[they] are the aspect of our bodies that we all manipulate in an attempt to communicate to others our own sense of who we feel we are.”  A gender identity is the subjective sense of fit within a particular gender category – and for most people, the gender identity that one is assigned at birth (boy/girl) matches with what they feel.  But transgendered people reveal that some people form a “sense of oneself as not like other members of the gender one has been assigned to, or to think of oneself as properly belonging to another gender category.”  Gender identity disorder is important, because feeling transgendered was considered a disorder or psychological pathology for most of its history.

Stryker’s definition of transgender is broad, referring to people “who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, people who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain the gender” (1).  This includes individuals who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery to make their sex better match their gender identity, but Stryker argues that transgender also includes people who just don’t somehow fit into the normal, prescribed gender roles, such as effeminate gay men, butch lesbians, drag queens and kings, and even heterosexual cross dressers.

Stryker argues that the transgender movement for social change began in the US after WWII, but actually has roots that trace back until the 1850s.  Similar to how urbanization and capitalization allowed for the emergence of gay and lesbian communities, transgendered people were able to form communities during this time, too.   Stryker also acknowledges the central role that science and medicine have played in regulating and attempting to define transgendered-ness.

The book also does a good job at depicting how the nature of the state’s power made life particularly difficult for transgender people:  the “bureaucratization of sex” defined only two options for people: male or female.  Of course, transgendered people may not feel that they fit in either category, or more likely, their outer appearance may not match their inner understanding of themselves.  Being transgender, therefore, made it difficult, or impossible, to gain access to particular governmental, or otherwise bureaucratic, resources, such as driver’s licenses.  The work of Virginia Prince in the 1960s did much to promote transgender causes (such as the ability to change the gender designation on state-issued identification documents).

In the 1970s, upper-class white transgender individuals began creating community with each other in isolation, in fear of losing their jobs and security.  At the same time, multiracial groups of militant revolutionaries (which must been seen in the context of the gay liberation, radical feminist, and general countercultural movements) were claiming space for themselves in the streets of America’s major cities (89).

By the end of the 1970s, though, the transgender cause had lost its gay and lesbian allies, namely because by then, the gay movement had taken on a more gender-normative expression of male homosexuality (95), and the radical feminist and lesbian movements turned on transgender individuals, because they saw them as further male intrusion and domination (female to males were seen as abandoning women, and male to females were seen as the ultimate expression of men “raping” women by intruding inside the world and body of women, beginning on 102).

Even as homosexuality was removed as a psychiatric disorder by the APA in 1973, Gender Identity Disorder was created as a new category of psychopathology in 1980.  Stryker argues that its possible to see how the social power of science shifted from a concern with sexual orientation to a preoccupation with gender identity by the 1980s (113).  Gay and lesbian activists were so successful in their civil rights activism, Stryker argues, that it became politically impossible for psychiatrists to treat homosexuality as a mental disease.  Instead, the focus went to people, not whose sexuality was in question, but whose gender was deviant.  As stated above, Stryker argues that gay, lesbian, and feminists activists “left” transgendered peoples and pursued their own goals, leaving them at the mercy of psychiatrists.

The situation improves in the 1990 when theorists like Judith Butler begin arguing that gender is not just a means of oppression for women, but is like a language in which people express themselves.  This allowed for more acceptance of people who did not fit into “normal” gender roles.  The rise of the “queer” or “genderqueer” identity in the 90s also showed the coming together of “gender minorities,” though Stryker suggests that the nomenclature of “LGBT” represents a re-splintering of the groups.

My Comments: This is a very helpful overview of US transgender history in the past 150 years, and can definitely be used as an introductory book even for undergraduates.  She discusses some theories in the introduction, and then moves on to the narrative in the last chapters, while interlacing just enough theory to display how the events are relevant.

One of the greatest strengths of her book is how she shows that all of the major events in transgender history must be understood in their historical context.  For example, transgender causes could not have seen success in the 1960s and 70s without the overall “gender bending” of that era: longer hair for men, different clothing for women, the sexual revolution, etc.

Categories: Book Review, Sexuality & Gender | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Grad School Stress

Stressed = dessert

Coincidence? I think not.

College Owl

How freakin true is that?

Text Symbol

Made me think of my earlier post: OMG, like LOL!!!!!! :))):):)!

Picnic Bike

Having this awesome picnic bike could cure some of my stress!

Categories: edumacation, Humor | Tags: , | Leave a comment

European Modernity & Mass Culture


Modernism & Mass Culture

In our past sessions, we have explored different transformations that historians have designated as marking Europe’s transition into the modern era.  We have discussed technological advancements, processes of secularization, nationalism, and the transformation of conceptions of time and space.  The books that we read for this session add culture to this discussion. Each of these authors approach the ambiguous topic of culture differently, and thus come to different conclusions about the causes and implications of the profound revolutions in European culture.    Did cultural transformations reflect or produce changes in the political sphere?  Did the emergence of a mass society created by technological innovations create a vast, alienating sea of individuals, or a new sense of community based on the “spectacular realities” of modern life?  And what can we make of European culture’s collective “journey inward,” its turn towards psychology and psychoanalysis as the source of answers for life’s troubles?  The five authors for this session all contribute to a greater understanding of European modernity by attempting to answer these questions.

In Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics & Culture, Carl Schorske explores the cultural world of the Habsburg Empire’s capital at the end of the nineteenth century.  Vienna’s small class of bourgeois liberals lies at the heart of Schorske’s story, and he argues that we must view liberals in Austrian culture as occupying a different place than liberals in France or Britain. In this way, Schorske’s argument can be seen as part of the Sonderweg thesis that is often applied to Germany’s transition into modernity.  According to Schorske, it was the failure of Austrian liberalism to overthrow the landed nobility and secure political authority for itself that marked Austria as different than the Western European powers and set it on a separate path of development. 1848 marked a defeat of the liberals against the aristocracy, and it was not until the 1860s that the liberals gained a constitutional regime almost by default.  “Not their own internal strength, but the defeat of the old order at the hands of foreign enemies brought the liberals to the helm of the state” (5).  This was only a partial victory, though, because the liberals were forced to coexist with an aristocracy that mocked them and thwarted their every attempt to accrue more political authority.  The only option left to liberals, Schorske argues, was to turn to culture as a means of ersatz authority to make up for their lack of actual political power.

As a result, the bourgeois liberals began imitating aristocratic tastes in architecture and art, since art “was closely bound up with social status, especially in Austria” (296).  Eventually, however, sociopolitical events caused these liberals to relate to art in a new way.  “If the Viennese burghers had begun by supporting the temple of arts as a surrogate form of assimilation into aristocracy, they ended by finding it an escape” (8).  According to Schorske, they were seeking a refuge from forces that they had inadvertently unleashed onto the thousand-year-old empire.  Although the liberals were proponents of parliamentarianism, they sought to restrict representation; only after people were educated with Enlightenment ideals could they be trusted with a vote.  These ideals spread beyond the liberal’s control, however, and various groups within the multi-ethnic empire began using liberal ideals to fight for their own inclusion in political processes.  So while the liberals were directing a nationalism against the aristocratic cosmopolitans above them, Slavic and Pan-German patriots were arguing for autonomy from below.  The Austro-German liberals “succeeded in releasing the political energies of the masses, but against themselves rather than against their ancient foes” (117).  In this light, Schorske uses Freud’s notion of Oedipal revolt, of “son” revolting against “father” to explain how the Viennese liberals were ultimately defeated by their own ideals.  By the century’s close, the liberals retreated from the public sphere into the introverted sanctity of the private sphere, leaving the nationalistic masses to dominate politics.

Deborah Coen challenges this narrative in her work Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life.  In an interesting book that utilizes the method of biography, Coen questions the “retreat” of liberals to private life as a “defeat.”  Instead, like Gerald Geison, she questions the notion of a fundamental separation between private and public spheres.  She’s able to do this by focusing on one family, the Exners, who were a “scientific dynasty” in Vienna.  By focusing on their family dynamics and their influences on the wider political and scientific communities, Coen is able to demonstrate that for the Austrian Bildungsbürgertum, or middle class intellectuals, “academic work and family life occupied the same social sphere” (31).  The home acted as a space for the Exners, and others like them, to not only discuss work and politics, but to also actually contribute to their work, thus “bridging the public and private lives of its inhabitants” (23).  Central to her argument is Coen’s assertion that “Liberal identity in Austria lay not only in an ideology but also in a character – a style of speaking, reasoning, and interacting, the product of an individual’s education in the broadest sense of Erziehung” (11).  A vital part in cultivating this liberal character was retreating from urban life, summering in quaint villages situated “in nature,” and not only observing nature, but participating in it as well.  Moreover, the Exners did this as a family at their “colony,” Brunnwinkl, along with other Viennese liberals who also summered at the Wagnersee, creating a seasonal “liberal space” where scientific and philosophical ideas were nurtured so that they could be spread back in the “public” sphere at the end of summer.  Thus, Coen argues that “cultivation of the domestic sphere was not a retreat from politics but a precondition of liberal identity” (90).

Coen also addresses the impact of uncertainty on liberal culture.  Where the Enlightenment ideals of the certainty of nature led to beliefs in unwavering laws of nature (scientific determinism), new discoveries and methods of interpretation led to the realization that perhaps nature was best understood as a set of probabilities rather than certainties.  In other words, phenomena were no longer dictated by natural laws, but instead were seen as having a higher (or lower) mathematical probability of occurring.  This new way of understanding mirrored the socio-political revolutions occurring as nationalistic and democratic waves overthrew the old social hierarchy.  Schorske argues that the liberals saw the acceptance of uncertainty as the “death of history,” a complete break with past understandings of the world, and thus retreated from politics and sought explanations in deep internal sources.  The relativistic “psychological man” replaced the traditional “rational” man of the old liberal ideals.

Coen claims that this view is simplistic and wrong.  Acknowledging that nature and society are more complex than previously understood did not destroy liberals’ worldview.  Instead, liberals like the Exners were able to “tame” and “manage” uncertainty through quantitative theories of probability, which contributed to two goals: defeating Catholic dogmatism, and providing a plan of action in the face of crippling relativism (10).  “Skepticism was thus not liberalism’s downfall but instead a vital element of liberal culture and natural science in post-1848 Vienna” (13).    In this light, psychoanalysis and similar sciences were not an admission that there was no real truth, but simply another chance to understand the world.  Franz Exner, for example, argued that “psychology should become to the interior world what natural science was to the exterior” (50).  Ultimately, Coen’s account adds more nuance to Schorske’s story, showing how liberals were able and willing to adapt to larger historical changes instead of just retreating to the private sphere (the home, and the inner self) in defeat; moreover, Coen’s characters are active actors contributing to the new, modern world, instead of just reacting to it.

Vanessa Schwartz’s Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris addresses another phenomenon related to the birth of modern culture: the rise of a mass society.  In a thoroughly entertaining piece of history, she challenges the idea of the new mass culture as a repressive, alienating phenomenon.  She sees the “spectacularization” of reality in Paris, which included the creation of “the public,” as a means of community building, where people did not feel alone in the crowd, but genuinely felt a camaraderie with other Parisians.  Schwartz’s analytical focus here is the gaze – she studies what people are looking at, who’s doing the looking, and how they are looking.  Therefore, unlike in Foucault’s portrayal of modern culture in which “the crowd” is seen, or is the spectacle (the object of the state’s attention), Schwartz’s portrayal changes the perspective and the crowd becomes the one doing the seeing.  In other words, the urban crowd became a society of spectators.  This is an important shift, because no longer is mass culture seen as something that is overwhelming and happening to individuals who feel lost or alone in a sea of other individuals.  Instead, mass culture is something that is partially shaped by the crowd, which is portrayed by Schwartz as group of actors. Schwartz’s characters are not mindless consumers; their demands and expectations shape the possibilities of the producers.

Spectacular Realities examines a number of media forms that helped create this crowd by turning everyday reality into events, things that should be first read about (she emphasizes the importance of the growth of literacy), and then gone out and experienced or seen for oneself.  “Like the boulevards, the press – especially in its sensationalization of the everyday – promoted the shared pleasures and identification of individual city dwellers that transformed them into “Parisians”” (26).  Going to see dead bodies in the morgue was like “real life theater,” turning death into an aspect of modern life.  Wax museums recreated scenes from daily life and let viewers “view themselves” in a narrative form, because the curators always set up the displays in a particular fashion to tell a specific story.  Wax museums, in other words, let modern Parisians see themselves as a spectacle from the viewpoint of a spectator (131).  Ultimately, while Schwartz’s book provides a plethora of important and entertaining information, the overall point of her book shows that the “spectacularization of everyday life” and the creation of the urban crowd deserves a spot among the study of democratization and technological innovations in the formation of modern society and culture.

Modris Eksteins’ Rites of Springs: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age is a grand, yet confusing book, in my opinion, and in fact, its composition seems to reflect the very break with tradition and sense of uncertainty that his subjects felt during the era of the Great War.  The 1913 debut of the Russian ballet The Rights of Spring in Paris “rightly stands as a symbol of its era and as a landmark of this century,” Eksteins claims (16).  The reason is because the ballet’s music, choreography – its entire production – expressed revolutionary new ideas. On the eve of World War I, its message was that “If there was any hope, it was in the energy and fertility of life, not in morality.  To an audience decked out in its civilized finery, the message was jarring” (50).  This feeling of change and detachment – the signposts of modernity that were brought about by technology – were accelerated by World War I.

Eksteins studies the power of the masses and their influence on geopolitics in particular.  He devotes a lot of attention to Germany, because he feels that the German experience lies at the heart of the modern experience since “she more intensively than any other “developed country has given evidence to the world of the psychic disorientation that rapid and wholesale environmental change may reproduce” (68).  However, I find his treatment of Germany problematic mainly because he speaks in overgeneralized terms (“the Germans” did this, or “the Germans” wanted that).  He claims that “Germany had been the country most willing…to promote the breakdown of old certainties” (156), yet 100 pages prior he was describing how the German masses were clamoring to see, and almost worship, their conservative Kaiser, and how this pressure not only forced the imperial government into war, but also swallowed up any opposition (63).

In find Eksteins’ discussion of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic more interesting, plausible, and useful.  Lindbergh, upon his arrival in Europe, became “the new Christ,” the “most famous man ever” (242-244).  This was because he straddled two worlds created by the devastation of World War One.  One world was one of “positive values, revolving around family, religion, nature, and the good and moral life.”  The other was a “modern” world that was exhilarated by the act of flying over the Atlantic alone.  “The act was everything” (250).  After a war, the dimensions of which defied all comprehension, conservatives found a harbinger of traditional values in gentlemanly and self-made Lindbergh, while others – including “the masses” – saw Lindbergh as a star, a representative of man’s conquest of nature through technology.  These same ideas of conquest and progress through social engineering were taken up by the National Socialists who ultimately twisted and perverted morals to the extent that “death was the supreme manifestation of life” (330).  Complete and utter destruction through war (what Eksteins calls Germany’s “endless right of spring”) would purge and cleanse the world, allowing for new and pure life to emerge triumphant.  Ultimately, I remain very skeptical of Eksteins’ book. I am not sure if it is meant to be a way that the two world wars can be viewed, or an attempt to explain them.  I wonder if he is not just conducting his own grand ballet here.

Finally, George Mosse’s work Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars explores the ways in which war, and the Great War in particular, affected how nations understood mass death.  Mosse asserts that the modern world, beginning with the French Revolution, was characterized by a sense of loneliness, particularly amongst its bourgeois citizens.  This is how he explains the large number of volunteer soldiers in every war since the Revolution.  Because of this sense of loneliness and meaninglessness, men volunteered to fight for a greater cause.  This symbolized a shift away from men simply being called into action by their monarch.  “Men’s loyalties were being redirected from dynasty to the fatherland,” Mosse states (20).  This notion of a greater cause – beyond being a motivation for men to volunteer for the war in the first place – was also used to justify the death caused by the war.  Death, then, was turned into a noble sacrifice on behalf of the nation and its people.  This leads to the creation of what Mosse calls the Myth of the War Experience.  This myth became a tool of nationalism, and was essentially a coping mechanism for those nations that lost in the Great War.  For instance, in Germany, trauma and defeat led to the strengthening of nationalism and the War Myth as “a civic faith” (10) in which monuments and memorials can be seen as shrines to the fallen dead.  It is important to note that only the memories and experiences of veterans that matched with the larger aims of nationalism were commemorated in cemeteries and monuments (37).  In this way, nationalism was in the business of establishing and perpetuating official memories for the Myth of the War Experience.

He has an interesting section on the trivialization of the war, by which he means the processes in which the war was “domesticated” (141).  War themed books and toys allowed citizens to take control of the war, which seemed much smaller and manageable as a result.  In short, it allowed people to grow accustomed to warfare, thus dulling the impact of mass death.  Moreover, Mosse argues that changes in the ideals of masculinity, notions of activity and vitality, as well as the ideal of serving one’s nation in any way possible, all contributed to a brutalization of politics after the Great War (159).  This brutalization limited the number of possibilities open to politicians when tensions led towards a second global war in the 1930s.  World War II ended the Myth of the War Experience, though, because the Myth was not able to deceive people any longer.  More people experienced the war first hand due to a blurring of the boundaries between battlefield/home front and soldier/citizen.  Also, pictures, movie footage, and radio broadcast allowed more people to experience the war as it happened, and also exposed them to the new atrocities of modern warfare like the Holocaust (202).  This shattered the Myth and nations had to come up with new ways to deal with the mass death of the modern world.  The concept of “sacrifice” no longer sufficed in the face of Auschwitz.

All of these books reveal the turn of the twentieth century as a moment in European history characterized by far reaching change.  Technology, science, and geopolitics transformed cultures, which in turn affected politics, science, and technology.  The mass destruction and death caused by the Great War seemed to cut off the modern world from the past.  Eksteins shows that even the Victors experienced a sense of shattered reality.  They had achieved victory; now what?  (238).  Schorske in particular shows that while the masses were becoming active in politics, at least a part of society was becoming more introverted, looking inward for answers to the woes of modern life.  Individuality and “the self” took on a level of importance unparalleled to that point.  Indeed, Nikolas Rose claims that it was during this era that Europeans invented “the self,” looking for something deep within that was essential and true.[1]  Essentially, I would argue that this process could be seen as the search for a “secular soul” as the response to a movement bent on fighting the dogma of religion.  Eksteins calls this the collective “journey inwards” (298), and Coen displays that this inward journey does not equate to a wholesale departure from the public sphere of politics.  Finally, while both Eksteins and Mosse suggest that World War One was the cause of these new uncertainties, the other authors show that the forces of modernity were in effect before the Great War (and, in fact, contributed to its outbreak) even while the War accelerated and exasperated their effects.

[1] Nikolas Rose, Inventing Ourselves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Books Under Review:

  1. Schorske, Carl E. Fin-de-SieÌcle Vienna: Politics and Culture. New York: Knopf, 1979.
  2. Coen, Deborah R. Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  3. Schwartz, Vanessa R. Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  4. Eksteins, Modris. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
  5. Mosse, George L. Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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European Modernity & Mass Culture by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


For more books on modern European history, see my full list of book reviews. 

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European Science & Society in the 19th Century


Science & Society in the 19th Century

  Science, since its inception, has been a noble enterprise, spearheaded by a handful of men in each age, to gently unlock – or in some cases pry open with force – the secrets of nature so that they may be used to improve mankind.  While philosophers and politicians dealt with muddled theories and social (thus subjective) forces, scientists handled “facts,” objective truths that could be held, measured, and thus did not give in to the whims of man.  Or at least this is the idea of science held by most of the Western world since forever, it would seem.  The three books we read for this session not only challenge, but are successful in debunking, this Whiggish history of science’s unimpeded progress.  Moreover, Alison Winter’s Mesmerized reveals that until the mid nineteenth century, “science” as a unified enterprise comprised of experts in specific fields did not even exist.  Gerald Geison’s Private Science of Louis Pasteur calls into question the notion of private versus public spheres, and prompts us to ask what exactly the role of a scientist in society is. The Culture of Time and Space, a very problematic book by Stephen Kern, forces us to completely rethink how we as historians have been viewing the turn of the twentieth century.  Traditional periodization markers fall to the wayside as he emphasizes new themes: conceptions of time and space, the influence of technology, and the interplay of the different aspects of European culture.  All of these books present a much more complicated – and therefore accurate – picture of science’s place in European society.

In Mesmerized:  Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain, Alison Winter explores a Victorian movement that has hitherto been regarded as a fringe fad or margin pseudo-science:  mesmerism.  When “animal magnetism” (as it was sometimes called) arrived in England in the 1830s, it was just one of many practices that questioned the nature of life (40).  In this way, it was similar to other practices, like those that we today would label as “science.”  In fact, Winter convincingly argues that “Rather than occupying a different world from orthodox or legitimate intellectual work, animal magnetism called into question the very definition of legitimacy itself” (5).  Mesmerism, then, helped define science, rather than being a fundamental opposition to it (though, scientists later set themselves in opposition to it).  By highlighting this, Winter is calling into question the allegedly ascending, inherently progressive nature of the scientific discipline.  It was not until this point in time in Victorian England that such a discipline emerged.  It was through discussions of what constituted legitimate knowledge (the mysterious practices of the mesmerizer, or the quantifiable results of lab work?) that science emerged.  More specifically, it was an atomization – or specialization – of knowledge that occurred, thus giving rise to specialists who thought of themselves collectively as “scientists.”

This specialization affected, as well as being affected by, the ascendancy of experts.  In other words, there was a competition between the emerging scientists, mesmerizers, as well as other philosophers who were trying to explain the nature of reality.  This competition was over who had the authority of the knowledge of reality.  The result was a split between trained “experts” and the untrained ‘lay’ masses.  Winter shows that this was not just a metaphorical, abstract debate carried out in journals.  By the 1840s, there were movements for education reform, and even laws that would put the power of medicine in the hands of only those with certified credentials.  “Lay attitudes [also] had to be brought into line with doctors’ own definitions of expertise and legitimacy.  But doctors did not agree on these definitions themselves” (165).  Again, this reveals the haphazard process by which scientists asserted their authority in the nineteenth century (indeed, had to first define authority and then wrest it out of mesmerizers’ hands).

A rather exciting aspect of Winter’s book was the way in which she showed how mesmerism was a nexus of a number of issues for Victorian culture.  Moreover, it does not simply represent a nexus through which we can study that time period; the Britons themselves realized that when they were doing an experiment in mesmerism, for example, they were actually doing an experiment on their society at large.  Mesmerizing revealed attitudes towards gender, class, and race relations.  Most mesmerizers were white, upper-class men, while most subjects were women, either from the same class, or from a lower one.  Because mesmerism was understood as one individual exerting force and control over another’s body, the practice was interpreted as a physical manifestation (and therefore justification) of social stratification.  Moreover, power over one’s body (whether manifested as the ability to control another’s body, or through the ability to halt the powers of the mesmerizer) came to exonerate moral superiority.  Mesmerism also interested priests and pastors because they saw first, a threat to their influence and authority, but also insight into how to increase their own influence, power, and authority over their flocks (247).  Moreover, the “question of whether the effects [of mesmerism] were natural or supernatural made experiments a testing ground for faith and doctrine” (4).  Ultimately, Winter convinces us that these questions, far from being seen as marginal, were very serious for Victorian Britons, because they “understood natural laws as underpinning, or having implications for, social laws” (31).

The implications for mesmerism on notions of race and empire were profound mainly because it caused people to directly think about the relationship between themselves and the empire’s subjects.  It “became the occasion for self conscious reflections about the basis of race, inequalities, and the natural laws that helped one people to bend another to its will” (7).  Winter’s story of James Esdaile and his interactions with a local Indian healer deftly illustrates her larger points.  Esdaile, and those who read his stories, relied on the assumption that the “magician” (as the healer was called by the Enlgish) was but superstitious and gullible.  By projecting superstition onto the Indian/magician/subject, Esdaile portrayed the events as occurring in a way that reinforced the preconceived notions of gullibility and superstition (187).  Moreover, performances such as these reiterated the hierarchies of race and power.  “Although individuals like the “magicians” might be able to produce the same phenomenon, European science alone could discern their cause” (188).  In a final display of dominance, Esdaile obliges the “magician” by performing mesmerism on him, thus stripping him of authority (at least in the eyes of British readers).

A final point on Winter’s book:  As professional science emerged “victorious” (as a Whiggish interpretation would attest), and was able to perform the same tasks as mesmerists (the use of chemical anesthesia to suspend pain, for instance), it dictated the definition of legitimate evidence.  “The emerging scientific disciplines left no place for testimony on new scientific truths, unless it was subservient to laboratory apparatus” (305).  Testimony of events that had already occurred, or were known to occur were acceptable, but “testimony to new, startling truths [mesmerism] were not admissible on its own” (305).  Seen in this light, science emerged not as a progressive movement open to new methodologies, but rather a conservative one bent on defining and keeping authority.

In  The Private Science of Louis Pasteur, Gerald Geison uses a new supply of sources that have only recently become available to reevaluate the practices of famed French scientist Louis Pasteur.  By using Pasteur’s own private laboratory notebooks, Geison reveals a new, more complex, and somewhat ethically ambiguous Pasteur, one that varies greatly from the Pasteur myth that took hold even before Pasteur’s death.  In essence, Geison reveals the “private science” of Pasteur that was confined to his notebooks.  These notebooks revealed that Pasteur played fast and loose with the rules of the Scientific Method, completely disregarding it when it came into conflict with his preconceived notions.  This “new” and private Pasteur downplayed the role of his assistants and collaborators, and even administered his famous rabies vaccine without first testing it on animals.

It seems that Geison is not as shocked by these actual revelations themselves as he is by the fact that Pasteur seemed to have two separate lives. While Geison admits in the introduction that there is no real distinction between “private” and “public” science, he does not seem quite able or willing to forgive Pasteur for fashioning a particular public image of himself while practicing something else in the privacy of his own lab.  This raises questions of what we think about science in general – and moreover, its relationship with “the public.”  It also calls into question the private/public dichotomy that has so pervaded modern Western thinking.  By page 5, Geison admits that science is shaped by the anticipation of how the results will be accepted by an audience (other scientists, the government, or the public at large).  Pasteur chose problems and experiments that he knew would go over well with the public, and that would fit in the expectation of what a public scientist should be doing.  This already calls into question the distinction of private/public.  Also, knowledge cannot be divided up neatly – or at all, however neatly or messily – into private/public.  The work of one individual or generation is built on the knowledge and work of others and past generations, showing that no idea is ever completely our own, or “private.”

But, even while Geison admits all of this, he still seems upset that Pasteur quite consciously performed while in public (he was a “shrewd sociologist of knowledge” Geison states, 132); Pasteur fashioned a public image for himself that Geison deems today is inappropriate for a scientist.  But I wonder if these expectations were the same in the second half of the nineteenth century.  What was expected of a scientist?  It seems like Pasteur (especially towards the end of his life) was somewhat of a rock star, embodying far more than just the quest for knowledge about nature:  a symbol of nationalistic French pride, of the triumph of Western knowledge over nature, and perhaps of racial & intellectual superiority.  Perhaps a scientist (especially one getting paid so much) was meant to have this sort of public prestige.

But this book – and the revelation of Pasteur’s private notebooks – also reveals the discrepancies we have about scientific knowledge.  As science became more specialized and professionalized, the idea grew that science was (and should be) completely objective, removed from the influences of everyday life (even as it strove to explain everyday life).  So, what Geison’s work reveals is that scientists are just like people in other fields who are influenced by a multitude of factors, including (as in Pasteur’s case) religion.  Geison quotes Steven Shapin as stating, “Science, no less than any other form of culture, depends upon rhetoric.”  Geison continues, “And the superficially anti-rhetorical language of most modern scientific discourse is itself but another rhetorical resource or strategy” (269).  I think what Geison is trying to get at is that science, as a mode of thought, a way of understanding, is itself a particular type of rhetoric (or “socially constructed narrative” to use postmodern terminology), rather than being an expedition to discover the real facts that other narratives use to explain the world.  So, Geison complicates the story of science, especially the idea that it exists outside of culture; it is influenced by culture, and is a culture.

Finally, there is The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918, Stephen Kern’s provocative – and, I believe, problematic – work on how the ways in which technological innovations changed the way Europeans and Americans perceive both time and space. He pulls from a number of sources – philosophy, psychoanalysis, history, literature, and politics, though is eerily quiet on economics – to show how these changes affected all aspects of culture.  In his final chapters, he then shows what consequences these revolutions in thought and perception had on the “July Crisis” and World War One.  Kern’s basic assertion that technology impacted conceptions of time and space is accurate, and the specifics that he provides are for the most part convincing, not to mention interesting and thought provoking.  But, because I am already running too long, I would rather save my discussion of the ‘specifics’ for our meeting, and use this space, instead to raise some objections I have to Kern’s premises.

First and foremost, I take issue with his talk of “essential” or “basic” aspects of humanity, of “universal” traits.  It represents little more, I think, than an attempt to nail down a singular “human nature.”  He compares the conception of time (and its passing) to hunger: it is an essential expression of being human that we have hunger, and we all conceive of time and its passing. “The structure of history, the uninterrupted forward movement of the clocks, the procession of days, seasons, and years, and simple common sense tell us that time is irreversible and moves forward at a steady rate,” he claims (29).  But what of peoples that experience time so differently, that it is difficult – if not impossible – to compare their conception with our own, or to explain their conception in the terms of our own?  He seems to pay lip service to the acknowledgement (by Benjamin Whorf) that some people “actually experience time differently than we do” (xxii).  But the rest of his book is based on the assumption that we, as humans, experience time and space fundamentally the same around the world, and that we can trace large, sweeping changes and revolutions in these conceptions across large spaces.

I challenge this basic assumption, and view it as forcing our own understandings on others.  Moreover, I think his book misunderstands the processes of causality on many occasions.  For example, when discussing World War One he states, “The drive to expand and control space was universal” (241).  But what is that supposed to mean exactly?  This drive was somehow basically human, perhaps even genetic?  Instead of looking for how a human nature affected/caused political action, perhaps it is more helpful to ask if particular aspects of culture (products of historical processes) produce the government’s desire to expand.  Similarly, he claims that Great Britain and France, as dominant empires, were more confident going in to the Great War; they were less worried about a future, because the past showed that they were “always” there.  Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, had just become modern states, so they “knew” that they were fragile and could disappear in tomorrow’s war.  But did the leaders of these countries think of themselves as new and fragile?  What about all of the attempts to construct histories for themselves (not to mention the very real history that their cultures had, predating national boundaries)?  For example, what about the Heimat movement in Germany that attempted to give the German national history roots in the local, provincial pasts?

I think that Kern’s misunderstanding of this situation (and others throughout the book) stem from his belief in the dialectical nature of knowledge and reality: every thesis must have an antithesis.  Therefore, the opponents in World War One must have been opponents due to diametrically opposed conception of both time and space.  I do not wish to completely dismiss Kern’s book.  But, I do think it is more helpful, instead of setting up dichotomies, to explore how changes in the ideas of time (the anxiety that time had sped up, for example) affected all European leaders and pushed them to act quickly.

The greatest contribution of Kern’s book is that it reveals that a powerful revolution in the way Europeans understood time and space did in fact occur during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  It can be understood as fundamental in so far as the change in conceptions of time and space affected a number of facets of European culture: literature, art, science, warfare.  But I am not convinced that we are talking about fundamental shifts in human nature.

In conclusion, all of these books make us reevaluate the way we understand science and its place in European history.  All of them reveal that European society expressed deeply rooted anxieties about the pace of life, about how the march of time had sped up.  Many saw themselves as shooting into a progressive utopia, while others felt as if technology had them hurtling towards an apocalyptic end.  Second, these books show (if nothing else) that truths and knowledge were not solidified or agreed on; only hindsight makes them appear that way. In reality, definitions and knowledge were up for negotiation, much as they are today.  Third, Geison’s work in particular (and Kern’s in a less direct way) warns us to be careful of applying our own knowledge or standards onto the past.  It seemed that Geison’s understanding of what a scientist should be hindered him from understanding Pasteur’s crossing of a public/private boundary that may not have existed at the time.  And lastly, all three of these authors reveal that Western science is only one way of understanding reality, one method of acquiring and analyzing knowledge.  In short, it is but one genre in the larger literature of human knowledge.

Books under review: 

  1. Winter, Alison.  Mesmerized:  Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998
  2. Geison, Gerald L. The Private Science of Louis Pasteur.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.
  3. Kern, Stephen.  The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918.  With a new preface by Stephen Kern.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

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European Science & Society in the 19th Century by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

For more books on modern European history, see my full list of book reviews. 

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Grammar Nazi

Just a collection of grammar memes for the other grammar conscious folks out there:


Comma & Period Quotation Marks Alphabet in math Punctuation is Powerful Spell Check Spell Check 2

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