Liaisons dangereuses: Sex, Law, and Diplomacy in the Age of Frederick the Great

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Mary Lindemann. University of Miami. The Miami Hurricane.


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After that, I became interested in another topic that first caught my attention while researching years before in the Hamburg archives. There I discovered considerable material on sensational crimes and, at first, I thought I might write a book about these crimes, and similar ones in Amsterdam, and Antwerp. However, I soon noticed that much of my material was about political corruption.

I therefore became very interested in how the idea of corruption and its reality formed major themes in mercantile life. Building on this perspective, I decided to write about how merchant republics actually worked.

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While I was working on The Merchant Republics, I ran across a very thick file that at first I thought I might incorporate into a book on sensational crime. So, after having written three books on Hamburg or where Hamburg played a major role, I decided I wanted to move away from Hamburg and, for that matter, back in time from the late eighteenth to the seventeenth century. I decided to compare Mecklenburg and Brandenburg. Eventually that comparison proved impossible because of some archival deficiencies in Mecklenburg.

I then decided to focus exclusively on Brandenburg. As I started to trawl through the documentary material, I began to perceive the importance of the environment.


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JG: You covered the whole breadth of your career, publications, and story of how you came to your research through archival work into topical themes. ML: First, there are several different ways in which rebuilding actually reshaped the entire landscape. The destruction caused by the war itself was extreme. However, another critical factor is often ignored: sheer neglect.

LIAISONS DANGEREUSES: Sex, Law, and Diplomacy in the Age of Frederick the Great - uxovuxeb.ml

I was interested in the multiplicity of ways in which the landscape had been formed, or de- formed by the war, and then, the multiplicity of ways the landscape was transformed by rebuilding. Second, the process of rebuilding took place on all levels and involved multiple agents; the elector, estate owners, managers, and peasants. All engaged in the process of rebuilding and significantly transformed the landscape and the built environment. JG: So you take this environmental destruction as a jumping off point to look at the various ways that the recovery efforts affect manifold different processes: the social, political, cultural, economic, and explicitly agricultural, too.

Liaisons dangereuses: Sex, Law, and Diplomacy in the Age of Frederick the Great

ML: Yes, exactly. Many people migrated, of course, and had not died, nonetheless the indubitable population decline meant that not only was a village depopulated to a greater or lesser extent, but also many of the important social, economic, and political actors in that village were gone; some returned, some did not.

Villages determined agricultural life and how fields were distributed, and that had to be redone. The process was inherently political as well as social and economic.

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JG: The way I see this project unfolding is that there are almost endless ways we can look at it. We can look at different agents, we can zoom in on economic, on social, on political aspects. I was wondering if you could speak about the book without giving too much away and mention what angles you might not engage with, but that could be fertile ground for other academic research.

ML: I see the book shaping up as having a joint chronological and thematic organization. Toward the end of his seminal essay, "One Hundred Years of Homosexuality," David Halperin tries to illustrate how certain societies have located fundamental truths in arenas other than sex and sexuality.

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In contrast to the Freudian West, which spent decades discovering and rediscovering that a vast number of dreams meant that the dreamer wanted to sleep with his mother, Halperin points to Artcmidorus, a dream interpreter from the second century of the Common Era who "saw public life, not erotic life, as the principal tenor of dreams": "Even sexual dreams, in Artemidorus's system, are seldom really about sex: rather, they are about the rise and fall of the dreamer's public fortunes, the vicissitudes of his domestic economy.

Although sexual relations were at the heart of the constellation of figures in which the murder took place, there is little indication that anyone at the time felt that even the sexual behavior of the people involved--let alone anything as nebulous as their sexuality--provided any deep truths.

Instead, the interpersonal relationships, even those that were sexual in nature, point primarily to societal, economic, political, and diplomatic structures. Lindemann shares the interests of her eighteenth-century sources, using this sexual murder as an entree to a series of fascinating insights into the life of republican Hamburg in monarchical Europe.