Historian to speak on ‘Gay Berlin’

| March 27, 2014

Sweet Briar College will present a lecture by history professor Robert Beachy at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 3, in the 1948 Theater in the College’s Fitness and Athletics Center. “Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity” is based on his upcoming book by the same title. The lecture is sponsored by the Sweet Briar College history department, the Gender Studies Committee and the Lectures and Events Committee. It is free and open to the public.

Beachy, who lived in Berlin as a college student and began his career as a historian of Germany, says he became interested in writing about the city’s homosexual history when reading “Gay New York” by Yale historian George Chauncey.

“I realized that no one had done a study of Berlin,” he said. “What I’ve discovered — and argue in the book — is that Berlin really is the ‘birthplace’ of a homosexual identity, understood as a social expression of some elemental, hard-wired feature of personhood. It was Berlin (and German) doctors, psychiatrists and activists who, in the second half of the nineteenth century, began to describe and define this identity, including much of the language that’s still used today — the word ‘homosexual,’ for example.”

Gay men and women in Berlin created a “fairly open community” that included bars, clubs and social events, as well as magazines and other periodicals, Beachy says.

“This community also helped to reinforce a sense of identity, allowing many to discover themselves, as well as friends and lovers with whom they could identify.”

Other recent or forthcoming publications by Beachy include “The Soul of Commerce: Credit, Property and Politics in Leipzig, 1750-1840”(Brill Academic Publishers, 2005), “German Civil Wars: Nation Building and Historical Memory, 1756-1914,” which he is co-writing with James Retallack (Oxford University Press, expected 2014), and “Long Knives: Homosexuality in Nazi Germany” (in preparation).

Beachy is an associate professor of German history at Goucher College. His recent article on historiography of gay identity won the prestigious Higby Prize, awarded by the American Historical Association to the “best article in European history for 2010-11.”

Among other honors, Beachy was named a 2006-07 Jesse Ball Dupont Fellow at the National Humanities Center, a 2009-10 John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow, and a 2010-11 Mellon Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He holds a B.A. from Earlham College and graduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of Chicago.

Janika Carey

Category: History