HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON HOMOSEXUALITY by Salvatore & Robert Petersen--Eds. Licata


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For nearly a century, homosexuality has been investigated by social scientists but has received almost no attention from historians."" Yet historical interest is growing (witness Lillian Faderman's recent survey of female friendships, Surpassing the Love of Men), and the editors, both affiliated with the Center for Homosexual Education, Evaluation, and Research at San Francisco State University, aim with this collection to contribute toward it. All the more curious, then, that many of the articles included fall short because of insufficient grounding in their specific historical periods, which range from 15th-century Switzerland to modern gay America. Thus, while Louis Crompton's quick survey of laws punishing lesbian activity from 1270 to 1791 does effectively refute the ""myth of lesbian impunity,"" it does not adequately prepare us for Brigitte Eriksson's translation of trial records surrounding a lesbian execution in early 18th-century Germany. We can scarce comprehend the wanderings, numerous religious conversions, and bizarre love life of the young craftswoman in question unless we are told something of the religious enthusiasms and economic organization of the time. A few of the other articles do overcome this problem. B. R. Burg's delightfully-titled ""Ho Hum, Another Work of the Devil"" makes a convincing case that in early Stuart England sodomy, far from being an unthinkable abomination, was just one among many sins, on a par with cardplaying, bear-baiting, and drunkenness, and severely punished ""only when public figures were involved and political motives were present."" In a second example of careful historiography, Rudiger Lautman investigates the homosexual population of Nazi concentration camps (estimated at 10,000, all identified by pink triangle badges) and suggests that these prisoners had a higher death rate in camp and a lower survival rate upon leaving it partly because they always figured among the mass of prisoners, never among the betterfed, less-hard-pressed elite. Other articles, however, read more like historical sketches than studies. Granted, materials on homosexuals are not always easily obtained--Martin Duberman details his difficulties in receiving permission to publish two letters involving ranking ante-bellum Southern gentlemen--but more effort must be made to link homosexual history to the broader history. Some tantalizing historical tidbits, then, but little historical perspective.

Pub Date: July 23rd, 1981
ISBN: 0917724275
Publisher: Stein & Day