NnAQH ▰ Blog: Queering Nordic Borders

The copy of Hirschfeld’s “Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes” held at The Norwegian Queer Archive”
The copy of Hirschfeld’s “Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes” held at The Norwegian Queer Archive”. Skeivt arkiv.

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Queering Nordic Borders

31. januar 2024 | Written by Runar Jordåen

Queering Nordic Borders, the second conference of the Nordic Network for Queer History Archives and Activities (NNAQH) will be held in Bergen April 20 2024.

In 1914, Magnus Hirschfeld published his voluminous study Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes – a more than 1000 pages scholarly account on «homosexuality in men and women». The book was described by his sexologist colleague Havelock Ellis as the most detailed, precise and extensive work on the topic so far – «an encyclopedia of homosexuality».[1]

In the book, Hirschfeld summed up his theory about homosexuals or ‘sexual intermediate steps’ as a biological but non-pathological minority of people. His evidence was not purely from medicine and psychology, but also from geographical and ethnographical accounts from around the world. The existence of homosexuality all over the world, was to Hirschfeld a proof of his theory that homosexuality was natural, not a case of degeneration or debauchery.

One of Hirschfeld’s informants was a Finnish district attorney that had told him about the situation in his home country. As part of this he also shortly mentioned the Sámi people:

In the northernmost parts of the Scandinavian Peninsula and Finland lives the Sámi people, that constitutes an own nation. Among them homosexuality is allegedly also highly prevalent, and it is supposedly connected to religious customs.[2]

This very brief and vague description is one of very few depictions we have of queer Sámi history from the early 20th Century. As an indigenous people the Sámi have been colonized and assimilated by the Nordic nation states, and both the long running consequences of those policies and the struggle against new policies that severely threatens Sámi culture, language and resources, cause ongoing tensions and political struggles.

At the conference Queering Nordic Borders – the second conference of the Nordic Network of Queer History Archives and Activities (NNAQH) in Bergen April 20, the arbitrary nature of national borders within the Nordic and Baltic regions will be addressed. How can we through our practices as archivists, activists and historians, question, cross, transgress and “queer” those borders? How can queer archives and queer historians question the Nordic colonial past in the North and learn from indigenous studies and perspectives? How can Sámi archivists, cultural heritage workers and researchers use and learn from queer studies and queer archivists? How have assimilation policies shaped queer indigenous lives? And how do we preserve, disseminate and research queer histories? The preservation, dissemination and research of Sámi queer will be the topic of one of the sessions.

Other questions to be discussed include how queer history and queer archival practices can “queer” and transgress national borders within the region in general.

We hope to gather queer archivists and other people working in the queer heritage field, people working with indigenous and minority archives and heritage, queer historians, activists and people from the cultural heritage sector in general.

We hope to see you in Bergen in April!


[1] Havelock Ellis i Studies in the Psychology of Sex (3. opplag, 1915), sitert av Hirschfeld i «Vorwort zur Zweiten Auflage» (Hirschfeld 1920, XIV). [2] «In den nördlichen Teilen der skandinavischen Halbinsel und Finnlands leben die Lappen, welche eine eigene Nation bilden. Unter ihnen, soll auch die Homosexualität sehr verbreitet sein, und zwar soll sie, wie man erzählt, mit religiösen Gebräuchen in Zusammenhang stehen (Hirschfeld 1914, 539)».