homoerotic persecution in Shanghai Lalas: Female Tongzhi Communities and Politics in Urban China. Subordination within a gender hierarchy is intertwined with subordination (rather, dismissal and condescension) within a sexual hierarchy. Therefore, women detained in the eighties for "sex crimes" and "abnormalacy" received lenient treatment compared to their male counterparts (5).
Though political efforts centered around sexual civics were nothing new by the time of the Stonewall Uprising, the historic event did usher in gay liberation (what one might classify as the third wave of Western queer activisms). The "LGBT" political culture of the seventies was a stark contrast to the century of respectability politics that preceded it. Yet the AIDS epidemic soon became a grim reminder of the importance of legal protections and institutionalized identity (thus, ushering in a fourth wave). In Tiantian Zheng's Tongzhi Living: Men Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China, the author asks a group of men in a cruising park within a major city center about gay marriage:
"[E]veryone looks startled and responds, 'Of course not!' The man sitting next to us says, 'No, this kind of thing cannot be brought into the daylight!' (zhengda guangming). Another man says, 'I haven't even thought [of marriage]. Two men together are just for play. It's different from the marriage between a male and a female. [The relationship] between two men is temporary and cannot be permanent." Tan adds, 'If you get married, you'll be the focus of the world's attention as one of the few gay married couples – of course no one wants that! How shameful it would be!' (duibu duiren a)." (2)
As is implied by this post's opening quote, however, Hong Kong's public debates about homosexuality were being brought to the fore in the eighties (characterizing Hong Kong's own first wave of tongzhi politics, as identified by the authors above). Like Stonewall, the MacLennan Incident's prominence was, in part, reliant upon shock factor and media coverage. Unlike Stonewall, the "Incident" was sparked by a single individual – a Scottish police inspector charged with gross indecency, who was either killed in a police cover-up or committed suicide (192). One event was characterized by collective triumph, the other, individual tragedy.
Kam herself notes a shift from the "social/collective to the private/individual" when it comes to sexuality in China (25) – a kind of de-institutionalization of "heteronormativity" and "family values" that belies expectations for China to "progress," "evolve," or "develop" in any manner similar to that of "the West." Compare, in Hong Kong, what Kong et al. refer to as "utilitarianistic familism" – a product of British laissez-faire economics that encouraged "productive" competition between Chinese family units – and "family biopolitics" – a kind of regulated, heterocentrist, biologically deterministic mechanism that "shifted the site of governance from the state to the family" (191). Politics, economics, gender and sexuality are clearly very bound up in one another. How has the West co-opted traditional Chinese values and conceptions of family to serve its economic and political gains? How will Hong Kong contend with present-day Chinese manifestations of "pink capitalism" (and its obvious issues), given these preexisting colonial influences?
For my final project in Digital History, I will be using 3D modeling software (SketchUp) to reconstruct the Grand Hall of the Odeon Theater in Munich – the site of the first public political protest for "gay" rights. Using drawings, descriptions, and photos (taken at the beginning, middle, and end of the last century), I will extrapolate how the Hall might have appeared to Ulrichs in 1867 as he made his speech. The Odeon was bombed during World War II in an air raid and, as such, both the interior and exterior restorations differ very much from Urichs' time. In attempting to capture this site's former aesthetic, I hope to humanize (perhaps even dramatize) this important moment in queer history for my audience. The tangibility of space is an important and engaging aspect of history that I would like to explore through this project. "Setting the scene" by replicating the Grand Hall allows us to experience history in new, poignant ways.
SketchUp bills itself as "modeling for everyone" – easy to use and versatile. The software has already left its mark on the relatively nascent field of virtual heritage; after some research, I found several projects in which cultural heritage sites are being recreated/reconstructed using SketchUp:
But what differentiates three-dimensional modeling from printed, two-dimensional pictures? The dynamicism of the tools we use to convey complex ideas and arguments is a prevalent theme in the digital humanities. This tool can bring research to new audiences by allowing them to engage with history in new and meaningful ways. We are capable of exploring sites to which we might not otherwise have access – thereby democratizing the physicality/intangibility of the spaces we occupy and to which we form an emotional attachment (if not conjuring questions of "reality" and "presence," as well as the privatization of the tools we use to conduct such exploration). We can also broaden the scope of historic interpretation by appealing to cross sections of learners: those who might benefit most from reading the descriptive text that accompanies the reconstruction (e.g., as above), or from visualizing the space in three dimensions while interacting with the model (e.g., rotatation, zooming). In expanding this project, I might consider other avenues of making my reconstruction more accessible and meaningful; perhaps a booming Ulrichs voiceover that narrates the events of that day, making the audience feel as though they are witnessing the historic moment; perhaps a (miniature) 3D printout that people can touch and examine "in-person."
Queer history needs to be explored with digital tools for three reasons: (1) popularization, (2) canonization, and (3) reconstruction. Narratives of queer politics have long been neglected by our collective historical imagination. Public history is first and foremost an act of publicizing underrepresented histories (making them readily available and understandable for the layperson); it is not simply the interpretation of that which is already well-known and well-documented. Digital tools are crucial in disseminating this "new" information by offering a variety of learning methods that are not restricted to a single location (e.g., a physical exhibit or historic site). As public history seeks to extricate itself from academia (theories and paradigms that are often revealed to be meaningless pretension), it must also disrupt the historical "canon" – a hegemonic intellectual falsehood that gatekeeps our sense of validity by encouraging adaptation and assimilation rather than proclamation and testimony. In parallel, digital humanities scholars have had to contend with similar issues at the foundational level. If both fields unite to address these problems, we may be better able to both popularize and radicalize our histories. Even within queer history itself, we find mis/underrepresentations of POC, trans people, women, the poor and working class. These issues can be exacerbated by a dearth of primary source material. Digital tools can empower us to document our own histories and disrupt dominant narratives within our own communities, while accounting for the losses that our histories have suffered. Even in the case of a nineteenth-century "white" European man like Ulrichs (and other queers of his time), censorship and time have both played a role in diminishing the historical record. It is my hope that this project can reconstruct some of it.
Creating a model of the Grand Hall opens up my research to new methods of analysis by allowing me to depart from prevailing paradigms in traditional historiography that claim "objective truths" and "concrete facts." The concept of a singular, impartial history is an institutionalized myth born of racism, classism, (cis-hetero)sexism, etc. We can humanize important events by engaging site-specific history, by infusing history with pathos – an appeal to emotion, to empathy. As such, my intended audience is the LGBT community, because my primary concern is with demonstrating history as a mechanism of self-empowerment. Peripherally, my audience is also cishets (especially the phobes) because, pragmatically speaking, their education (rather than their spectatorship and animosity) benefits us.
Likewise, in “Beyond Identity Politics: The Making of an Oral History of Hong Kong Women Who Love Women," Day Wong integrates a similar poststructuralist view of identity into her discussion of oral history as a historical method. Wong is self-conscious of alienating "women who love women," opting not to label the project "lesbian" in nature. Like Tang, she is wary of the push-and-pull effects of assimilationism, aiming instead to reduce normalization (and, thus, marginalization). Both ironically and constructively, Wong builds upon Euro/American paradigms of grass-roots LGBT historiogaphy (i.e., oral history project implementation). She connects issues of underrepresentation for Black, Chicana, Jewish, and Asian American lesbians amid dominant narratives of white middle-class lesbians to the experiences of Hong Kongese "women who love women" – rejecting "lesbian" for its Euro/Americentricism, classism, and generally narrow classification of same-sex desires.
As I have previously discussed, the limitations of sexual terminology exist both in the present (i.e., the aforementioned race and class dynamics) and in the past (i.e., presentisms that obscure historical, contextual understandings and experiences of sexuality). This issue is especially pertinent for "lesbian" history. Most of my studies have tended to center solely around the "gay male experience." I could blame my egregious androcentrism on a lack of primary source material and/or the fact that most of the big names in the LGBT history field (those scholars who are afforded more spotlight) are queer men who write about queer men. But, in truth, I have both internalized and contributed to the invizibilizing of lesbianism/female homoeroticism by allowing these issues to manifest in my research interests. Indeed, in her seminal essay, "Venus in Two Acts," Saidiya Hartman reflects on the gaps in our records of the past (the underrepresentation of oppressed and silenced peoples) as they are reflected in the biases of the historical canon and reproduced by an engine of intellectual conformity.
In other words, (white) male homosexuals were more likely to possess the means and agency to act out on their desires, as well as assert a communal-political presence. Their materials make up the majority of what remains for us to study. Even before more public forms of homoerotics, primary sources documenting woman-womanly eroticism are more likely to be classified as "romantic" and "affectionate" – due, in part, to our phallocentric conceptions of what constitutes sex, as well as social constructionists' reluctance to "read too much into" close female friendships of the past.
There is no simple solution. However, the creation of spaces (be they physical, intellectual, or cultural) is one way to begin. In much the same way nü-tongzhi activists have fought to make room in the larger tongzhi movement for themselves, so too have grass-roots historiography and archival work helped to make queer history a discipline. It is neither "niche" nor "divisive" for a community to take it upon themselves to demand representation and acknowledgement. As such, "women who love women" must confer with one another to determine how to both expand (indeed, "popularize") the field, while addressing broader issues with primary source materials.
For the purpose of creating this map, I chose to trace the significant events in a single historical figure's life in order to better conceptualize a historical narrative not just in terms of geographic, but temporal context. What emerged was a helpful visual aid that illustrates a biography of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs – known as the first "gay" activist.
I selected the base map because it was the plainest – free from most features that would make it appear anachronistic (e.g., roadways and national borders) – but still labeled countries and cities, providing a modern reference point for users without overpowering the overall narrative. For example, during Ulrichs' lifetime, Germany was not a unified nation; he was born in the Kingdom of Hanover, what would be part of Germany today. In fact, the construction "what would be ___ today" is often used by educators to familiarize their audiences with a new spatial context.
"The Life & Times of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs" has three layers: Education (where Ulrichs attended college), Life & Work (where Ulrichs lived and worked), and Moments & Intersections (locations that signify significant relationships or events in Ulrichs' life). I selected layer colors so they would both compliment and pop against the dark base map. There are some gaps and intersections between these layers. For instance, both Hildesheim and Munich have two points each (one for Life & Work, one for Moments & Intersections). Ulrichs lived and worked in Hildesheim for over a decade; during his time there, he was fired from his job for being gay and subsequently came out to his family via letter. While it may seem repetitive to have this information divided into to two separate points, I felt it made the descriptions more concise, as well as easier to navigate (should someone like to switch off certain layers in order to explore a single aspect/theme of Ulrichs' life).
Because my location points are so vague (due to a dearth of information about the specifics of where Ulrichs lived, such as a street address or neighborhood), Google has placed them in the city centers – with the exception of the universities he attended. I am limited by my own knowledge of German geography so, after ensuring the points were (at the very least) in the right area, I opted not to move them lest I unintentionally contribute to the inaccuracy of their placement. I hope that someday in the future when Ulrichs' life becomes more well-studied (and primary sources like census data emerge that could pinpoint where he lived), I might be able to update these locations with more accurate data. For now, because this map is rather "zoomed out" compared to others that might focus on a specific city or neighborhood, these inaccuracies are not so accentuated as to pose a huge problem. Viewing at the default distance to examine the path of Ulrichs' life does not require the specifics of Ulrichs' living circumstances.
Lastly, I drew a path through the locations that we can be certain Ulrichs actually visited, in chronological order, in order to better establish a linear historical narrative of his life. One may note that not every point is included in this path; for example, Ulrichs used a publisher Leipzig to publish his pamphlets, but I cannot confirm whether he sent them or physically traveled there himself. Conversely, Ulrichs' correspondence with Richard von Kraft-Ebing while he was at the University of Vienna was likely a long-distance relationship that never necessitated in-person contact. Once again, hopefully with the benefit of more time and research, this map (its path and points) can be improved, expanded upon and corrected – after all, such is the nature of digital history projects.
Coming into the project, I was unsure about the role of geography in my work (probably because spatial history has never been one of my strong suits). However, I have learned that the use of maps need not be limited to specific contexts. Rather, in tandem with the recent historiographic paradigm shift towards "global" narratives of history, maps allow us to contextualize our narrative construction, to identify relationships and patterns of social, political, economic, cultural and intellectual exchange across space and time.
In the vein of "global history" and the use of world maps, we ought to be wary of the imperialist legacies built into popular map projections. As is implied by this oft-cited West Wing scene, the political implications of maps are vast (much like the Eurocentric frameworks we use to construct our historical narratives – global or otherwise). I am also curious about the possibilities of making maps more dynamic. For instance, could we utilize multiple layers of chronologically-ordered base maps from different time periods that could be animated to gradually fade into one another to show change over time? Could we then pair this function with various layers of points (grouped by time period rather than theme) that are revealed in tandem with the corresponding base map layers? In this way, change over time would be well contextualized and illustrated with little to no anachronism.
For the purpose of creating this chart, I made use of both the Wildcard and Inflection functions on Google Ngram (instructions here). Wildcard gives us the top ten most popular words that follow or precede "sodomite(s)" in all of the books published between 1850 and 1930 that Google has digitized. Meanwhile, Inflection gives us all of the derivatives of "sodomite" (just "sodomites" in this case). Unfortunately, the tool would not let me pair the two functions together, so I ended up inputting "sodomite *, sodomites *, * sodomite, * sodomites." I chose the word "sodomite" because it has maintained a relatively uniform popularity for the past two centuries – with the exception of the the past three decades (please see below). I chose the 1850-1930 time range because it is roughly the same time period covered in my thesis (the first queer public protest being in 1867 and the first queer organization in America founded in 1924), encapsulating what I often refer to as "first-wave queer activism," wherein – for the first time in the Western world – queer sexual identifiers were invented for the explicit purpose of asserting a political presence. Google Ngram logically assigns the color scheme – various shades of the same color for Wildcards and Inflections of the same words. All of the lines/data points may seem overwhelming at first, however, the overlay gives us a general picture of parallel trends while one can select individual phrases to highlight and identify specific lines.
Below the Ngram chart is a list of hyperlinked years and words to "Search in Google Books." To investigate the mysterious "notorious sodomite" entry (about midway through the list above), I used one of these links, which brought me to a regular Google Books search. To narrow my search results to works published in the period I was looking at in my Ngram chart (and to filter out contemporary historiographies using or quoting the word), I went under Tools and customized the time range. This new search yielded a bunch of old pseudo-historical texts – an 1855 Church of England Magazine article, an 1871 History of Romanism, an 1889 History of Latin Christianity, and a 1927 Preface to The Life and Confessions of Oscar Wilde. Those accused of being "notorious sodomites" included Xenophon (an ancient Greek philosopher), Pope Julius III, Pope Boniface, and (unexpectedly) Robbie Ross – Wilde's good friend. Ironically, Xenophon seems to have been more of an opponent of same-sex sexual activity (writing somewhat admiringly about the lack of homoeroticism in Spartan culture and going so far as to debate Socrates about the shamefulness of "homosexuality"). There is seemingly no evidence to support that Boniface was any sort of a queer, meanwhile Julius III was rumored to have had a long-standing relationship with his adopted nephew. Last but not least, the story of Oscar Wilde is well known; however, based on the Snippet View I was able to access, this descriptor among others ("an unspeakable skunk," "habitual debaucher and corrupter of young boys" and "blackmailer") was ascribed to Ross – an openly "gay" journalist.
Random factoids aside, these primary sources – the historical research they might prompt having been unified under an (un)common theme – illustrate one of the best aspects of Ngram. This tool is not just "exploratory for the sake of exploratory." it encourages critical engagement and follow-up questions. I was prompted to go down a rabbit hole of information just to learn about these men and their lives. What other information can we glean from these charts when different elements interest different people? Ngram should not be reserved for the masturbatory ramblings of academics who seek to engage the digital humanities in their work; it should be utilized by any layperson who is interested in understanding how language shapes and is shaped by our contexts – temporal, cultural or otherwise. In this case, "sodomy" is associated with immorality, notoriety, and a ruined reputation (especially, it seems, in a religious context).
Much like the popularity of "the sodomites" in the previous chart might indicate an acknowledgement of collective identity or orientation (however disparaging) by the 1930s, "the homosexual" comes off as rather individuated – with pluralized derivatives only cropping up in the lower half of the popularity count. This speaks to a larger historical theme of the homosexual identifier (actually originated by a queer activist) being appropriated by judgemental sexologists who constructed regimented, pseudo-scientific typologies and forms of inquiry that pathologized queerness. "The homosexual" is thus discussed as an isolated individual case – a deviant or an outlier subject to scrutiny; meanwhile, "sodomites" have endured for much longer as subcultural entities en mass. Unexpectedly, however, "homosexual love" was also rather common by the thirties – suggesting either a significant amount of romantic/poetic literature being produced by queer themselves or issues with the sample itself. Indeed, the statistical significance/generalizability (feasibility of using Google Ngram charts as evidence or to make broad claims) is questionable. The data is limited to whatever has been digitized and OCR'd by Google. How does Google go about prioritizing what gets digitized? Perhaps copyright, accessibility, donations, and popularity of certain works all play a role.
The first of this set of charts is the one I used for my thesis – comparing/contrasting the prevalence of various sexual identifiers within the span of time I was researching. However, it is difficult to discern when any great shifts in popularity occurred – just that "homosexual" really took off towards the end of the nineteenth century (having been invented in 1868). So, I created a follow-up chart (the second one) to "zoom in" on the changes. Ngram shows us that Urning (the first queer sexual identifier invented by an activist) enjoyed some significance until the early 1890s – when a lot of sexological literature was being published, co-opting "homosexual" and inventing "sexual inversion." This analysis demonstrates that Ngram can serve to confirm and/or illustrate one's previously drawn conclusions (based on traditional historical research).
Finally, I just threw these two charts together to investigate/amend other questions and issues that might arise while using Ngram. The first of this set (using the Inflection function) demonstrates the strange jump in the use of "sodomite(s)" in the past thirty years – something worth investigating and perhaps attributable to a growth in LGBT history research and/or the availability of digital/online works. This particular Ngram also demonstrates a strange (and perhaps meaningless) trend for "sodomites" to periodically surpass "sodomite" in popularity (with a "smoothing" of 3 – as in all of these charts). Does the plurality of "sodomites" bear some sort of meaning or am I just reading too much into it? Meanwhile, the last chart is my attempt to account for multiplicity of meaning/connotation. For example, "gay" and "queer" would be difficult to test with Ngram because, up until the mid-twentieth century (or thereabouts), they could mean happy or weird, respectively, or homosexual; as such, there is no real way of measuring their popularity in a strictly sexual sense (except maybe with the Wildcard function). So, using "sexual inversion" as a kind of control variable, I tried to see whether the spike in "invert" was more likely attributable to just a general use and/or literature about geometry, physics, etc. rather than sexology. I think my results were somewhat inconclusive. Overall, I would argue that Google Ngram is a wonderful and powerful tool best suited (at present) for distant reading – which ought to inform how we conduct our close readings of historical text.