Sarah L. Leonard

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20022003 Forum on The Book

Sarah L. Leonard

Modern European History

Ph.D., Brown University, 2001

Readers, Peddlers, and Policy: Popular Books and the Creation of Obscenity Law in 19th-Century Germany

During the first half of the 19th century, novels, memoirs, and popular accounts of life abroad became widely available and affordable to literate members of German society. A growing conviction that people were reading differently— for pleasure rather than edification, entertainment rather than worship—emerged on the literary landscape. However, popular reading habits produced anxiety in part because they reflected political and cultural uncertainties. Dr. Leonard investigates the creation, distribution, and cultural meaning of so-called "obscene print" in 19th-century Germany. She considers the official campaigns waged by police and courts in German cities to confiscate "immoral writings,” and to invent a legal language for prosecuting such texts. Dr. Leonard also examines the ongoing debates concerned with morality and proper gendered behavior which arose around these texts. This backlash was initiated by religious leaders, pedagogues, and physicians. Efforts to make sense of the popular book trade took different forms, yet all who commented on the subject shared the conviction that reading—particularly secular, pleasurable reading—could transform individuals and society for better or worse.

Course: History of Obscenity