Queering Historical Scale, Part 4: Querying Metanarratives of Queer History in Modern Germany

AHA Session 281
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 9
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 1A (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
April Danielle Trask, Amherst College
Svanur Petursson, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Session Abstract

How do queer histories challenge the stubborn continuities and radical ruptures that too often dictate how we narrate the story of twentieth-century Germany? Or how do they otherwise fit? And should they? Scholarship on queer history in Germany during the long twentieth century, like studies of modern Germany more broadly, have been shaped by distinct boundaries: political periodization and other moments of rupture, temporal and geographic borders. Queer histories and methodologies, however, demand the recasting of dominant narratives regarding evidence, experiences, meanings, and transformations; they inspire fresh analysis that locates continuity and change across these long-standing and constantly-shifting divisions. Indeed queer identities often could be as fluid and protean as the lives of twentieth-century German states themselves. This panel considers the challenges posed by queer histories that transgress traditional historiographical turning points such as 1918, 1933, 1945, and 1968 by queering historical scale on numerous registers. In short, the aim is to use these recalibrations to interrogate inherited wisdoms by situating historiographies in dialogue.

While each panelist rethinks a metanarrative of modern German history, the papers together invite discussion of queer lives in Germany across a longue durée and upon various scales. Christina Chiknas’ paper, “To Finally Let Fall the Burdensome Mask: the Queer Politics of Carnival in Early-Twentieth-Century Germany” interrogates the use of annual Carnival and masquerade festivals by queer populations at the moment of their coming out on a public and national level. It takes up this culture—and the national crisis it generated—across three German governments from 1900 to 1937, showing how the carnivalesque played a central role in queer subjectivity and national morality across temporal as well as geographic divisions. Considering “The Afterlife of Sexual Evidence: New Uses of Old Sources” Matthew Conn examines Nazi research into the sexual pasts of citizens across German-speaking Central Europe in the Third Reich’s quest to combat homosexuality. He finds that neither geography nor even a person’s death foreclosed the possibility of pursuance in the transnational persecution of same-sex attracted men, and questions traditional periodization of queer life under Nazi rule. Finally, in “West German Gay Liberation: Escaping the Stonewall ‘Meta-Narrative,’” Craig Griffiths uses discourses of gender transgression and shame in the gay scene to establish continuity across postwar periods of gay history in West Germany. Highlighting the case study of Rosa von Praunheim’s 1971 film Not the Homosexual is Pervese, But the Society in which He Lives, Griffiths challenges the use of 1968 as a sharp historical divide in the history of West German gay liberation, arguing instead that 1971 can be seen as West Germany’s “stonewall moment.”

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