Thursday, February 12th: Stephanie Skier

Please join the European History Workshop on Thursday, February 12th from 6-8pm for the following paper and discussion:

“The International ‘Girl Trade’ and Imperial Germany, 1880s-1914”

Stephanie Skier
Doctoral Student of History
University of Michigan

The paper is available on the EHW CTOOLS site NOW. For a copy of the paper and/or access to the site email the workshop coordinators.

The event will be held in 2608 Haven Hall.

Dinner will be provided, as usual.

Please find a short note from the author of the paper below:

“This paper analyses the concept of ‘Mädchenhandel’ (‘girl-trade’/‘girl-trafficking’) in Imperial Germany and the emergence of ideas that prostitution and sexual commerce constituted a transnational, international, migration issue. A genealogical-conceptual history and periodization of ‘Mädchenhandel’ in German political discourse frames a focused analysis of the German National-Committee for the Combat against Girl-Trafficking (DNBM)’s international activities.
In 1880-1886, Gertrud Guillaume-Schack introduced ‘Mädchenhandel’ in her petitions to abolish regulated prostitution in Germany. Guillaume-Schack borrowed from eclectic German and foreign political movements—Josephine Butler’s campaigns, Swiss Bakuninists, French Protestant social reformers, German Social Democrats—and emphasised fostering healthier alternatives for working-class and poor women. During 1886-1898, following Guillaume-Schack’s expulsion from Germany, ‘Mädchenhandel’ effectively disappeared from public discussion in Germany, even as debates about prostitution and related crime pervaded the middle-class press and the Reichstag in the 1890s. Emigration and transmigration across Germany increased dramatically, informing a shift in the meanings of ‘Mädchenhandel.’ In 1899, in limited connection with William Coote’s campaigns, the DNBM formed to ‘combat girl-trafficking,’ a problem viewed as a mobile, internationally networked traffic in girls and women for the purposes of prostitution. DNBM succeeded in institutionalising the ‘combat against girl-trafficking’ within the official language of Prussian state bureaucracy, with a special police division (ZBM) devoted to policing a mobile, international problem. The 1904 and 1910 intergovernmental agreements further institutionalised the DNBM’s catchphrases in Germany, but this mainstreaming also resulted in a variety of political interests adopting ‘girl-trafficking’ rhetoric for their own agendas, many of which were quite distinct from that of the DNBM, as 1912 Reichstag debates illustrated.
DNBM representatives travelled to destinations in northwestern and eastern Europe, along the North African Mediterranean coast, to Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, New York City, even to Chile and Peru. The purpose of such trips was to investigate and report on the ‘trade in German girls’ in these locations and along these routes. Particularly suspect was ‘girl-trafficking’ from Russian Poland and Galicia, through German ports of Hamburg and Bremen/Bremerhaven, and onward to various Atlantic destinations, most notoriously Buenos Aires. DNBM reported a vast network of brothels and ‘girl-traffickers’ operating around Buenos Aires without police interference. Despite reporting few ‘German girls’ amidst the ‘ethnographic puzzle’ of this South American ‘girl-trafficking,’ DNBM declared that German state officials and German private initiatives had a duty to investigate and eliminate such ‘girl-trafficking’ beyond German territory and even beyond a diaspora of German citizens. DNBM reports contributed to a broader fin de siècle project that framed prostitution as a translocal and international issue involving international migrations and international illicit trade networks, which therefore demanded international investigation and response. The DNBM asserted this internationalist framework under the auspices of a German ‘national’ organization. Investigations and knowledge production about ‘Mädchenhandel’ implicated the scope of the national and the (Imperial) German, and the scope of the international or transnational, negotiating juxtapositions and colocation of these sometimes competing frames. In conversation with Valeska Huber’s ‘translocal vistas’and Kris Manjapra’s ‘visions of the global,’ this paper analyses how the language of ‘Mädchenhandel’ resituated the so-called ‘prostitution question’ in different terms and in different imagined spaces.

This paper is part of a larger project that explores how ‘Mädchenhandel’ discourse structured the thinking and policing of migrants and mobility on different borders of Imperial Germany from the 1880s to 1914. My comparative analysis of three key territorial borders—the northwest border with Belgium and Holland; the eastern border with Imperial Russian Poland and Austro-Hungarian Galicia; and the port of Hamburg—analyses the asymmetries of imagining and policing territorial borders of Imperial Germany.”