An Interview with Samuel Clowes Huneke about his New Book, "States of Liberation"

CHR will host Professor Huneke on Friday, March 25 for a virtual book launch

by Catherine Olien

An Interview with Samuel Clowes Huneke about his New Book, "States of Liberation"

CHR interviewed Professor Huneke in advance of his CHR Book Launch for States of Liberation.

Register here for the Virtual Book Launch (Friday, March 25 2:00-3:00 PM EDT)

When did you first become interested in the stories and experiences of gay men in Germany? And how long were you at work on this book? 

I first became interested in these stories as an undergraduate student. I came out as a gay man in those years and was fascinated by the history of sexuality in modern Germany. And so, I decided to write my undergraduate thesis on the novels of Klaus Mann, one of the first openly gay authors in history. I still remember reading The Pious Dance, his “coming out” novel that was published in 1925, on a train to Berlin in November 2009 and feeling a sense of community across time. When I came to graduate school a few years later, I kept researching the queer history of Germany, this time focusing on what had happened after the fall of Nazism in 1945.  

Was it clear to you from the start that you'd explore personal histories, laws, and circumstances in both East and West Germany? 

East and West Germany were always in the framework for me. I think East Germany is one of the strangest and most fascinating states to have existed in modern history. But for so long after the two states reunified in 1990 it was thought of as nothing more than a footnote in German history. From the get go I wanted to tell a story that would compare and contrast gay experiences in the two countries, while also highlighting how these two histories shaped each other. 

You spent some time in Germany-- living, researching, and conducting interviews for your work. What stands out the most from this experience?

I did! I spent over a year going to ten archives in Germany and the United States and interviewing over twenty individuals who lived through the Cold War in Germany. One of those interviews really sticks in my memory. In winter 2018, I traveled to Meiningen – a small, old East German town of only around 25,000 residents. It’s deep in the heart of Germany and I had to take a number of regional trains through snow-covered forests to get there. I went there to interview Ursula Sillge, who was one of the main queer activists in East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. In those decades she was tenacious about pressing the communist dictatorship for greater rights and opportunities for lesbians and gay men. She told me not only about her activism but also about all of the absurdities of trying to get anything done in a country like East Germany. It was a remarkable interview.  

Who or what audience would you most like to read your book? 

I’m hoping that States of Liberation will find its way to readers with a general interest in the history of modern Germany and modern Europe, Cold War history, and queer history. I wrote it for a broad audience and especially for people who maybe have clear cut assumptions about the relationship of gay liberation to liberal democracy. One of the big things I set out to demolish was the idea that the two are inherently tied together. In a lot of ways, I was writing against that line in Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, when he connected gay and lesbian rights to a triumphalist account of American democracy. So perhaps I hope that President Obama will pick up a copy and consider what it says about these issues.   

In which types of courses or seminars would you most like to see your book taught?  

Hopefully it’s taught in all kinds of classes — queer studies, Cold War history, modern Germany, history of sexuality.  

In  States of Liberation,  you share with your readers perspectives from a variety of repressed populations and underrepresented voices. Would you consider this book, or your scholarship in general, a form of activism? 

Definitely. It was important to me to not only make an argument about gay liberation and its relationship to dictatorship and democracy, but also to recover all of these voices and experiences and to preserve them. I think there’s something radical and wonderful about finding the experiences of those who have been persecuted and who have struggled for liberation and doing your best as a historian to keep their experiences alive for new generations.  

Will the book be translated into German? 

I certainly hope so!  


Register here for the States of Liberation Virtual Book Launch (Friday, March 25 2:00-3:00 PM EDT)

Order a copy here.