Durham University

Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease

Current Research Interests

Albert Moll

Sex, Ethics and Psychology: The Networks and Cultural Context of Albert Moll (1862-1939)
Funded by the Wellcome Trust

Albert Moll (1862-1939) was one of the most prominent medical authors in late Imperial and Weimar Germany. As an author he was covering such diverse areas as hypnosis, psychology, parapsychology and occultism, sexology and medical ethics. Moll also ran a successful private practice, specializing in nervous disorders and psychotherapy and was a prominent figure in medical circles in Berlin, with a strong involvement in professional politics. As a public figure he was well known as the author of popular books and articles in magazines and newspapers as well as for his role as expert witness in several sensational court cases.

Moll was well connected in the intellectual circles of his time and drew his influences from a range of scholars. The Neo-Kantian philosopher Eduard von Hartmann was an important influence on Moll's psychology, especially his concept of the unconscious. Another Neo-Kantian philosopher and physician, Max Dessoir, was an important collaborator for Moll, especially with their shared interest in hypnosis, parapsychology and occultism. Finally, Moll's interest in and approach to sexology was strongly influenced by the research of Richard von Krafft-Ebing on sexual pathology. With his own work on sexology, Moll had a strong influence on the pioneer of British sexology, Havelock Ellis. Dessoir and the Berlin philosopher Georg Simmel advised Moll when he wrote his book on medical ethics, Ärztliche Ethik (1902).

However, Moll was also a controversial figure. In professional politics he had the reputation of a tough negotiator, and he was known for his self-righteous behavior. Moll fought ferocious academic battles with his colleagues on numerous occasions. During his professional life Moll repeatedly criticized Sigmund Freud, whom he also disliked as a person, and his psychoanalysis, which he fundamentally rejected. Another of Moll's long-term feuds was with the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, whom he regarded as a charlatan who was using unscientific methods.

The German-nationalist Moll disdained Hirschfeld for his social democratic views. He did not shy away from denouncing Hirschfeld when the latter had to emigrate from Nazi Germany. Although a converted Jew, Moll himself refused to leave Germany. Nevertheless, he lost his licence for medical practice and found it almost impossible to publish. An exception were his memoirs Ein Leben als Arzt der Seele (1936). Moll died on 23 September 1939, ignored by his German colleagues and almost unnoticed by the international scientific community.

Our project of a modern biography of Albert Moll as an integrative figure in the culture of fin-de-sciècle metropolitan medicine responds to a recent resurgence of interest in him within medical psychology, sexology, ethics, and Jewish history. While Holger Maehle enters this new study on the basis of his current work on medical ethics in Imperial Germany and on the history of medical confidentiality, Lutz Sauerteig comes to it from his research on the history of sexuality and venereal disease. The research for this biographical project is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

A Special Issue of Medical History, edited by Holger Maehle and Lutz Sauerteig, 'Sexology, Medical Ethics and Occultism: Albert Moll in Context' was published in April 2012.