LGBT History Month Poster: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Wikimedia Commons

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, born in Saxony in 1825, was a writer who used his words and actions to publicly defend homosexuality (a term that came into usage in the German lands in the late 1860s, although Ulrichs himself preferred the term he coined, ‘Urning’) and to denounce the criminalisation of individuals accused of having engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Between 1864 and 1879 Ulrichs published twelve volumes of essays discussing Researches on the Riddle of Love between Men [Forschungen über das Rätsel der mann-männlichen Liebe], which elaborated his theory of homosexuality as anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa [a feminine soul confined by a masculine body]. This theory appears problematic to contemporary ears, and was shaped by Ulrichs’ interest in the then developing scientific branch of embryology as well as by contemporary societal-cultural assumptions that “love directed towards a man must be a woman’s love”.

Whilst the concept of ‘coming out’ is a 20th century one, Ulrichs effectively did this, consciously, first to his family and then publicly in 1868 when he stopped publishing under the pseudonym ‘Numa Numantius’ and began publishing his works discussing homosexuality and codifying different sexual orientations under his own name. Ulrich was also a political activist, speaking out against both the legal restrictions placed on homosexual activity and against the Prussian-dominated unification of Germany; the two combined in his (justified) fears that the extension of Prussian rule would lead to the extension of its strict anti-homosexuality laws.

Since his death in the Italian city of L’Aquila in 1895, to where he had fled in exile in 1880, Ulrichs has been claimed as a pioneering hero of the gay emancipation movement in Germany and beyond. Several German cities have named streets in his honour, his tomb in L’Aquila has been the site of an annual commemoration on Ulrich’s birthday since 1988, and the city was the major venue, along with Munich, where Ulrichs also lived for a time, for the ceremonies that in 2000 celebrated the 175th anniversary of Ulrich’s birth.

Source: Hubert Kennedy, Ulrichs: The life and works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, pioneer of the modern gay movement (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1988)

Further reading:

Robert Beachy, Gay Berlin: birthplace of a modern identity (Knopf, 2015)

Hubert Kennedy, ‘Karl Heinrich Ulrichs First Theorist of Homosexuality’, Science and Homosexualities (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 26–45.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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