The contemporary politicization of sexualities has deep roots in the previous fin de siècle. Then as now, conflicts over sex acts and sexual identities were central points of articulation in a wide-ranging struggle over just how to produce, reproduce, and embody a moral and humane society. Like scholars of other western, industrialized nations, historians of the United States have identified the turn of the twentieth century as an important period of change in sexual ideology and practice. For decades, the chief framework for understanding this watershed has been a transition from “Victorian” to “modern” mores. One of the most sophisticated renderings of this transition appears in John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman's Intimate Matters, a comprehensive survey of U.S. sexual history. The authors identify a shift from family- and reproduction-oriented sexual practices to “sexual liberalism,” the idea that sexual preferences and pleasures stand at the center of individual selfhood.
Catherine Cocks is the co-director and editor of SAR Press at the School of American Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The author of Doing the Town: The Rise of Urban Tourism in the United States, 1850-1915 (2001), she is currently researching a project tentatively titled “American Tropics: Tourism, Culture, and the Modern Self, 1880-1940” that examines the development of resort tourism in southern California, Florida, Cuba, and Mexico, as well as the Caribbean cruise industry.
1 Thanks to Alan Lessoff and the two reviewers for their thoughtful critiques of earlier drafts and the journal's fact checker for his careful work; all remaining errors and infelicities must be laid at my door. At the School of American Research, I am grateful to James F. Brooks, who opened a back door into academia for me, and Len Leschander, who processed dozens of ILL requests with only the occasional raised eyebrow at my choice of bedtime reading.