Twentieth-Century Queer and Artistic Bohemias

AHA Session 129
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 4
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Michigan Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Daniel Hurewitz, Hunter College, City University of New York
Daniel Hurewitz, Hunter College, City University of New York

Session Abstract

This panel will examine the intersection of sexuality, art, and identity in various bohemian communities active in the twentieth century. It will be an exploration into how geographic place, historical period, and social community offer converging and diverging insights into changing conceptions of sexuality, bohemian identity, and performativity employed by these groups.  

By the twentieth century, metropolises like New York, Paris, and Berlin had developed distinct homosexual and bohemian subcultures. The interwar years were especially ripe for these queer communities to broaden their social and cultural networks through expanding connections based on sexual tourism, artistic movements, or illicit trade. H. Camilla Smith will look at Berlin as a center of gay and bohemian life in the 1920s and 1930s following the advancements made by the Institute of Sexual Science and the end of World War I. In particular, Smith will examine the sexual network constructed through the guidebook “Guide to a ‘depraved’ Berlin,” which made Berlin a destination for queer travelers from Europe and abroad. New York and Paris in the 1930s also boasted large gay and bohemian communities. Thomas W. Hafer will explore a group of poets, writers, and painters at the overlap of these two communities where sexuality, gender, and identity were most fluid providing an original perspective of the rapidly changing bohemian and queer worlds. Christopher Adam Mitchell will look at similar bohemian and queer communities in New York at another pivotal point in history, the gay liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. He will analyze the extralegal commercial networks in Greenwich Village while considering the changes that economic shifts had on the nature of the queer and bohemian communities. Daniel Hurewitz will chair the panel and provide commentary, further drawing out overlapping themes and ideas between the papers and providing some points of comparison and contrast between the different periods, places, and communities.

The three papers presented will dissect and complicate how these communities were structured and created, how members of these groups identified themselves, and how they were perceived and portrayed by the dominant society. Comprised of historians and art historians, the panel will offer an interdisciplinary approach to their subjects. Moreover, with their overall focus on art and bohemia, the papers will bring together different types of historical evidence found in poetry, literature, paintings, guidebook illustrations, police records, and artists’ journals and diaries.

Also, each paper and the panel as a whole will challenge the history of sexuality field. Although aspects of these communities have already been studied, through interdisciplinary approaches that emphasize the relationships between text and images and primary source material, the panel will provide comparative insight into these transnational, queer, and bohemian communities around the Atlantic.  Moreover, it will demonstrate these communities’ historical significance by exploring their cultural, social, and economic dimensions over the course of the twentieth century.

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