The 267-seat auditorium in the McClung Museum was nearly full as Dr. Dagmar Herzog began discussing sexuality in 20th century Europe.
"Sexuality in Europe: A 20th-Century History and a History of the Present" was the title of Herzog's lecture Wednesday night. Herzog is a distinguished professor from City University of New York. Her lecture was based on her 2011 book, "Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History," and is a part of UT's "Distinguished Visiting Scholars in the Humanities" series.
Herzog's lecture focused on how the 20th century was a period of great sexual liberation, but also a period with much backlash to the rising sexuality and uncertainty within the liberalizing movements themselves.
"To only tell a narrative of steady progress would be to misunderstand how truly complicated the sexual politics of the 20th century really were," Herzog said.
Herzog's lecture first covered Europe's sexuality through the 20th century, and then how that history has led to Europe's sexuality in the first decade of the present day. Herzog divided the 20th century into five phases, each with a very distinct contribution to European sexuality.
The first phase spanned between 1900 through 1920, and Herzog described it as a time of "yearning from below." Sparked by sexual scandals involving royalty and celebrities of the day, everyday Europeans started to discuss sexuality more openly. Birth control and sexual pleasure within marriage also became more prominent in the day-to-day culture as well.
The second phase went from the mid-1920s to 1945, when the state got involved with sexuality.
"If the early years of the 20th century are an uprising from below, with people having a sexual interest in pleasure and talking about it," Herzog said, "the next move is when the state government tried to take control."
With an increased sexuality in the public, the state began to open and operate health clinics and clinics for marital counseling. This was also the start of backlash against more liberalized sexuality.
The third phase spanned much of the mid-20th century. Herzog said that it was marked by a turn to a more conservative view of sexuality. Promotion of marriage and keeping sex within the marital bounds increased, but marketing using sexuality began at the same time. This was also the start of political activism for sexual rights.
The fourth phase, starting in the 1960s and lasting until the '80s, was described by Herzog as a period of "rebellion." The "make love, not war" movement was in full swing. The feminist movement also began, and the pill became available. But with this period also came backlash against feminism, promiscuity and homosexuality.
The final phase started with the era of the AIDS virus. Despite the horror that AIDS brought to the world, it did bring some benefits by forcing everyone to discuss sexuality. Because everyone was vulnerable to AIDS, barriers came down, the state increased education and sexuality became less taboo.
In the 21st century, Herzog described Europe's sexuality as both liberal but still restricting.
In many western European countries, for example, LGBT rights have come to the forefront of legislation and public support. It's gotten to the point that the European Union will pressure less LGBT-friendly nations to ease their restrictions before gaining access to the EU.
"Homophobia is no longer cool in the higher courts of Western Europe," Herzog said.
Herzog also notes that sexuality has become more inclusive. Advertisements feature a variety of groups, and Herzog used examples which included an amputee being used as an underwear model and a woman with Down syndrome seen catching a wedding bouquet in another ad.
But there are problems. Herzog noted that the rise in Islam and its stricter code on sexuality often clashes with Western Europe's more liberal lifestyle.
Abortion rights have recently come under fire as well in Europe. Anti-abortion supporters, both from religious and secular movements, have started playing Europe's increased inclusion of the disabled as a means to condemn abortion. With doctors taking tests that can indicate whether an unborn child will be disabled, anti-abortionists claim that Europe is using these tests as motivators to get abortions and prevent giving birth to disabled children, which the anti-abortionists claim is prejudice.
Herzog's choice of 20th century European sexuality as a research topic started all the way back in 1993, when Theodore Zev Weiss, president of the Holocaust Educational Foundation, requested that Herzog teach on the Holocaust.
Once Herzog began looking into the prejudice that was raised against the Jewish people, she noticed that sexuality played a part in Germany's hatred.
"I didn't start as just looking at sex, I started by looking at mass murder and religious prejudice," Herzog explained. "It's those profound issues ... that led me to the study of sexuality because anti-Jewish rhetoric was saturated with sexual innuendo. It was because of this really serious stuff that I started to understand that sexual politics matter."
The branch off from studying the Holocaust to covering the sexuality of Europe started when Herzog was researching and publishing her 2005 book, "Sex After Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany." People would ask her about the sexuality of other European countries such as France, England and Romania. After establishing contact with Cambridge University Press on the matter, Herzog jumped on the chance to research that question.
Monica Black, an assistant professor in history, was one of the coordinators of the event. Graduate students in her History 510 class suggested bringing Herzog to the university back in March, and Black helped organize the event and requested funding from the Distinguished Visiting Scholars Project.
After Herzog's lecture, Black was very pleased with what she heard.
"I thought it was a wonderful example of how a historian can have really interesting things to say about what's happening ... in the world now and give a kind of back-story to the world of today," Black said. "For me, that was one of the most important things of the talk."
Black was also thrilled by the number of attendees in the audience.
"I thought it was a great turnout because ... it's a topic that interests people," Black explained. "I think there were a lot of faculty here. There were a lot of graduate students here and there were a lot of undergraduates here. It's like the whole community of the university. I thought it was great."