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By Victoria Harris. New York: Oxford University Press, Harris investigates change and continuity in the experiences of these women and revisits popular assumptions about the connections between political regimes and the regulation of sexual mores and practices.
She argues, for instance, that legal changes did not always have the social ramifications we might expect and should be viewed in the longer continuum of commercialized sex transactions rather than held up as unique results of the period in which they were implemented.
The book is meticulously researched, drawing on police and medical records from Leipzig and Hamburg. The women Harris presents in this chapter are often resourceful and confident, law-abiding, and not necessarily the ostracized social pariahs historians make them out to be.
Likewise, the chapter sketches a convincing picture of the urban geography of prostitution. The brothels, streets, homes, bars, hotels, and massage parlors she describes were firmly part of the cities of Leipzig and Hamburg and encourage us to discard stereotypical views of a profession hidden from middle-class sight. Readers who are new to the field may wish to turn to this section first if they are looking for a primer on the maze of laws and regulations that was the German regulation system.
Perhaps the greatest significance of this book is that it will force scholars to be more precise when discussing the modern history of female prostitution. Likewise, Harris discusses broad themes, but her research is limited to two German cities.