History of prostitution

Prostitution in World Cities, 1600 to the Present
 

The aim of this project is to write a global and comparative history of female prostitution from 1600 to the present. Notwithstanding the large number of national studies on particular aspects of prostitution (e.g. regulation, attitudes or labour market), no international comparison over a significant span of time has been attempted.
This project attempts to achieve a comprehensive overview on prostitution from a global labour history perspective. It studies prostitution as a societal phenomenon as well as a form of labour, and focuses, therefore, on prostitutes' working/living conditions and work culture.

Since prostitution is an overwhelmingly urban phenomenon linked to the evolution of commercial society, the focus will be world cities. We start in the early modern period in order to gauge whether practices of and attitudes toward prostitution changed with industrialisation and the subsequent increase in urbanisation. Also, by thus including the pre-colonial situation, we can observe to what extent prostitution changed with the settlement of Europeans in overseas territories.
The focus on modern and contemporary periods is justified by the profound political, military and socio-economic changes since the 17th century. Processes of colonization, (proto- and de-) industrialisation, urbanisation, the decline of agriculture, the emergence of class systems, the rise of nation states and state control, military modernisation and development of modern communication forms most probably had an impact on the practice of prostitution and on societal reactions to it. The increased organisation of prostitutes during the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as the increased scholarly attention to prostitution and the main actors within the sex industry (prostitutes, pimps, brothel keepers, traffickers, clients, etc.), additionally encourage extending the research to the present.

The project follows a research model of earlier comparative projects conducted by the International Institute of Social History on the history of dock and textile workers.
In the first phase of the project we seek to collect urban studies on the history of prostitution in different countries for the period between 1600 to the present. To facilitate international comparisons the authors of these urban overviews will be requested to respond to the topics/questions that are listed in a framework document.
In the second phase of the project, and based upon the collection of urban overviews, a number of authors will be invited to write thematic comparative papers on prostitution with relation to migration, regulation, war/army building, colonisation, ethnicity, labour market and living conditions, influence of male working environments such as ports and army camps, socio-demographic profiling of prostitutes, prostitutes' activism and (national and international) organisation, and societal views on (female) prostitution and masculinity. These will be discussed at a conference, which will take place in Amsterdam, on 25-27 April 2013.

With regard to financial compensation, we expect to be able to offer participants hotel accommodation and meals during the conference. We ask those supported by scholarly institutions to take care of their own travel expenses. If this poses a problem, they can contact us, and we will try to find additional funds to pay for their travel expenses.

Call for papers

Authors are invited to send a short proposal for urban overview(s) of a maximum 500 words to Magaly Rodríguez García (mrodrigu@vub.ac.be) by 15 November 2011. Based upon their cosmopolitan character with regard to commercial and/or military activities, we have decided to minimally include the following cities in the project:

  • Africa: Cairo, Casablanca, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Cape Town
  • Asia: Shanghai, Bombay, Manila, Surabaya
  • Europe: Amsterdam, Florence/Rome, Istanbul, London, Moscow, Paris, Hamburg/Berlin, Stockholm
  • Latin America: Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Guatemala City
  • North America: Manhattan/New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans
  • Oceania: Sydney, Melbourne
Time schedule
  • 15 November 2011: Deadline for urban overview(s) proposals
  • 15 December 2011: Letters of acceptance (or rejection) of proposals
  • 1 March 2012: Invitation to experts to write thematic narratives
  • 1 September 2012: Deadline for urban overviews (first drafts of the papers should not exceed 10,000 words)
  • 1 March 2013: Deadline for thematic narratives
  • 25-27 April 2013: Conference in Amsterdam/The Hague
Organization

Magaly Rodríguez García - Vrije Universiteit Brussel (mrodrigu@vub.ac.be)
Lex Heerma van Voss - Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Lex.HeermavanVoss@huygens.knaw.nl)
Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk - International Institute of Social History (enm@iisg.nl)