Magnus Hirschfeld, his biographies, and the possibilities and boundaries of ‘biography’ as ‘doing history

Brennan, T and Hegarty, P. J. (2009). Magnus Hirschfeld, his biographies, and the possibilities and boundaries of ‘biography’ as ‘doing history. History of the Human Sciences, 22(5) 24 - 46.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0952695109346642

Abstract

This article considers the two major biographies of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, MD (1868–1935), an early campaigner for ‘gay rights’ avant la lettre. Like him, his first biographerCharlotte Wolff (1897–1986) was a Jewish doctor who lived and worked in Weimar Republic Berlin and fled Germany when the Nazi regime came to power. When researching Hirschfeld’s biography (published in English in 1986) Wolff met a librarian and gay activist, Manfred Herzer, who would eventually be a cofounder of the Gay Museum in Berlin and publish (in German, in 1992) the other major Hirschfeld biography currently available. Using, inter alia, the correspondence between Wolff and Herzer, the article aims to explore and interrogate the boundaries and possibilities of ‘biography’ as a form of ‘doing history’.

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