Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past (eds. Fisher and Langlands)

Fisher_visualSex: how should we do it, when should we do it, and with whom? How should we talk about and represent sex, what social institutions should regulate it, and what are other people doing? Throughout history human beings have searched for answers to such questions by turning to the past, whether through archaeological studies of prehistoric sexual behaviour, by reading Casanova’s memoirs, or as modern visitors on the British Museum LGBT trail.

In this ground-breaking collection, leading scholars show that claims about the past have been crucial in articulating sexual morals, driving political, legal, and social change, shaping individual identities, and constructing and grounding knowledge about sex. With its interdisciplinary perspective and its focus on the construction of knowledge, the volume explores key methodological problems in the history of sexuality, and is also an inspiration and a provocation to scholars working in related fields – historians, classicists, Egyptologists, and scholars of the Renaissance and of LGBT and gender studies – inviting them to join a much-needed interdisciplinary conversation.

Book Contributors:

Alastair Blanshard, University of Queensland
Debbie Challis, University College London
Peter Cryle, University of Queensland
Kate Fisher, University of Exeter
Jana Funke, University of Exeter
Joanna De Groot, University of York
Lesley Hall, Wellcome Library
Rebecca Langlands, University of Exeter
Chris Manias, University of Manchester
Sebastian Matzner, University of Exeter
Alison Moore, University of Queensland
Karin Sellberg, University of Queensland
Chris Waters, Williams College

For more information see the OUP site.

Part of the Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History project at the University of Exeter.

Full citation:

Fisher, K and Langlands, R (2015) Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Reception of Rome in English Sexology (Funke and Langlands, 2015)


Rome is a significant site in the late nineteenth-century sexological construction of modern figurations of homosexuality, although so far it has been overlooked. Although sexological discussions of Rome are often less elaborate than those of Greece, Roman sexualities proved central to the sexologists’ interest in diverse types or subcategories of ‘homosexuality’ or ‘sexual inversion’, and Roman history and literature enabled sexologists to develop and reinforce distinctions between, for example, congenital homosexuality and cultured or degenerative sexualities. The chapter focuses on Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds, and their dialogue with continental sexology, exploring the representation of Greek and Roman sexualities, and analysing the conflicted ways in which Rome is integrated into the narrative of an affirmative history of male homosexuality that begins to emerge in sexological writings of the period.

Full Citation:

Funke, J and Langlands R (2015) ‘The Reception of Rome in English Sexology’, in Ingleheart J (eds) Ancient Rome and the construction of modern homosexual identities109-125.


Navigating the Past: Sexuality, Race, and the Uses of the Primitive in Magnus Hirschfeld’s The World Journey of a Sexologist (Funke, 2015)


This chapter explores the as-yet little understood place of anthropological research into cross-cultural sexual behaviours and customs within the broader field of early twentieth-century sexual science. She offers a close reading of German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld’s travel narrative The World Journey of a Sexologist (1933) and focuses, in particular, on his engagement with allegedly ‘primitive’ phallic cults in Asia. In so doing, the chapter interrogates how temporal hierarchies between the primitive and the civilized shaped modern understandings of sexuality, which emerged in dialogue with colonial constructions of racial and cultural difference. It also draws on Hirschfeld’s travel writings to demonstrate that the primitive past could be used in contradictory ways that both challenged and reinforced racial and cultural hierarchies and to different ends: to open up an understanding of sexual diversity and variation across the world and to legitimize the Western project of sexual science.

Full citation:

Funke, J (2015) ‘Navigating the Past: Sexuality, Race, and the Uses of the Primitive in Magnus Hirschfeld’s The World Journey of a Sexologist‘ in Fisher, K and Langlands, R Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past, Oxford University Press, 111-134.

‘We Cannot Be Greek Now’: Age Difference, Corruption and the Making of Sexual Inversion (Funke, 2013)


A Problem in Greek Ethics, A Problem in Modern Ethics and “Soldier Love” indicate that John Addington Symonds responded carefully to social anxieties regarding the influence and corruption of youth and placed increasing emphasis on presenting male same-sex desire as consensual and age-consistent. Situating Symonds’s work in the social and political context of the 1880s and 1890s, the article opens up a more complex understanding of Symonds’s reception of Greece. It also offers a new reading of his collaboration with Havelock Ellis by arguing that Symonds’s insistence on age-equal and reciprocal relationships between men strongly shaped Sexual Inversion. This shows that concerns about age difference and ideals of equality and reciprocity began to impact debates about male same-sex desire in the late nineteenth century – earlier than is generally assumed.

Full citation:

Funke, J (2013) ”We Cannot Be Greek Now’: Age Difference, Corruption and the Making of Sexual Inversion’, English Studies: a journal of English language and literature, 139-153

Open Access article available here.