Prostitutes in History: From Parables of Pornography to Metaphors of Modernity

BEFORE 1980, THE PROSTITUTE was “pornographic.” Few historians considered prostitution an important topic, and studies of the subject commonly played to the sensational and salacious.’ The small body of significant scholarship concentrated on ideas, social movements, and campaigns to control or abolish prostitution.2 Other serious works focused on cities with red-light districts, emphasizing the most visible and elite forms of prostitution.3 Additional investigations were buried in monographs and theses devoted to crime, deviancy, hospitals, and public hygiene.4 Historians, in the words of Alain Corbin, “remained haunted by the ancient links between the prostitute, rotting flesh, corpses, and filth.”‘5 While recent historians of prostitution have hardly become metaphoric under- takers unearthing “rotting flesh” and “corpses,” they have complicated the subject in ways unanticipated a generation ago. In less than two decades, more than a score of scholarly monographs on prostitution have appeared….
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