1. Thank you very much for this post. I would like to add my experience with a course on the history of prostitution in the 20th century, which I taught in the last semester at Humboldt-University in Berlin.
    When I began teaching my course on prostitution (the course was in English and thus catered to a very international group of students, mostly advanced BA or MA-students), I felt the need to address various aspects.
    I started the first class by letting students engage in a discussion in small groups about their expectations of the course. Especially with a politicized topic such as prostitution, I felt the need for a self-reflective moment, where students would actually express their expectations, which – I assumed – where somewhat informed by contemporary debates. When we later gathered their expectations as a group, I could get an idea of the questions, terms, concepts that were used.
    I continued the discussion by asking “What is prostitution?” Like Gillian Frank did, I wanted to tease out inconsistencies, disagreements, grey areas in definitions of sexual behaviors. But here as well, there was an inherent self-reflective moment, as our views of prostitution are shaped by contemporary debates on the topic and is thus, at least to a certain extent, always normative. It is precisely the normativity of definitions and concepts that came up during the whole course. In this sense, historical teaching is always also a self-reflective moment with regard to one’s own norms.
    The last step of the discussion was then to move from “What is prostitution” to “How can we make this into a historical debate”. Since most students had basic training in historical methodologies and approaches, this step was easy. “Prostitution” obviously had to be constructed differently in various historical times and places, laws and policies were different. Students asked about proper historical research rather than texts by social scientists. We talked about sources and the difficulties of getting to the personal experiences of people, because either archives were not accessible yet for the whole of the 20th century or because such archival records did not exist or were hard to retrieve. We talked about questions and topics they would have like to address… and I felt the disappointment, when I had to admit that there is still so much that has not been explored by historians in this area.
    But even here, the contemporary lens informed the questions students asked: Should prostitution to be analyzed as work? Where can we find stories of “forced prostitution” and coercion? The dichotomy between forced and voluntary prostitution (a dichotomy that doesn’t really capture the multiple grey areas of lived experiences) informed questions students asked.
    However, with my first session I achieved a few things. There was a self-reflective moment, which allowed me and my students to get an impression what the knowledge, terms and concepts as well as expectations were. We now had a common terrain from which to start. Most importantly, we started a discussion on the concept of “prostitution” which ended with people experiencing (not being told by me) how hard it is to define terms like prostitution that are inherently normative as well as historical. I also thought it was really important that students came up with questions and things they wanted to learn about. It created a participatory atmosphere that shaped they whole course.

  2. Hi Sonja,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences on Notches. It sounds like you taught an engaging class and raised provocative questions.



  3. Reblogged this on mysophobia 潔癖 and commented:
    the tasks necessary to get students to think historically about sexuality: defining sexuality and advancing the idea that sexuality is socially constructed; reading primary and archival sources critically; cultivating a personal investment in the subject matter while moving beyond autobiographical analysis of sexuality; and emphasizing that sexuality is intersectional (that it cannot be examined separately from other categories of identity, social structures, and systems of meaning).

  4. Pingback: Teaching the History of Sexuality with Difficult Images - Interface

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