BLOOMINGTON – From the drawers of Dr. Helen Fisher’s New York City apartment to seven white boxes at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, the personal effects of one of the world’s most interviewed sex experts outline her career with magazine stacks, VHS tapes and audio cassettes without their cases.
These are just the leftovers. Many tapes hit the trash, and newspapers were recycled, before Fisher considered her press mentions to be an archive.
Ten years ago, Kinsey library director Liana Zhong asked Fisher if she might like to donate what remained – books she had written, tapes from television appearances she had been given on her way out of the studio, magazine clippings from National Geographic to Penthouse – as something for scholars to study.
The thought of her thoughts becoming an immortal record made Fisher weep, but the idea slipped from her mind. She went back to work.
The Rutgers University professor of anthropology gives interviews by the dozens, about 40 coming every Valentine’s Day. She crafted a compatibility test for the dating site Chemistry.com. In most articles with chemistry and love in the title, Fisher was quoted.
She kept multiple copies of her books, which had been translated into languages from North America to the Near East. Magazines and videotapes remained, too.
Not quite in the stove, Fisher said of the collection at her apartment, but in the cabinets next to the stove.
The possibility of shipping her materials to Kinsey was again floated when another researcher she had worked with, Justin Garcia, landed in Bloomington.
During a speech on lust and attachment at IU Oct. 1, Fisher announced she would donate her archive to the Kinsey Institute. All of it.
She cried again.
It’s an absolutely remarkable feeling. This would all go in the garbage, but instead, it’s going to go to one of the most exciting, dynamic places in the world, Fisher told the Herald-Times.
There is work that needs to be done to make the archive more than piles of periodicals, newspapers and audio and video recordings.
Since it was received by FedEx in the days following Fisher’s announcement, Zhong and her colleagues have been poring through the materials to find where they fit among the institute’s other collections. The materials include gerontotherapist Harry Benjamin’s almost 70 years of diaries and daily planners and articles about homosexuality and transvestitism by German physician Magnus Hirschfeld.
Researchers come to the Kinsey with a topic, not necessarily a person to study, and the staff points them to the collection that might pique their interest. Zhong would say Fisher’s ideas stand out for an anthropological approach to sexuality.
She’s an expert on romantic love but also a spokesperson for the sex research field, Zhong said, with hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings in the archive for researchers to peruse.
One tape, for example, holds a 2005 interview with Fisher on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. Actor Jude Law had just been caught sleeping with the baby sitter, and the world wanted to know why men cheat.
The answer referred back to the evolution of the species. Men increased their chances of passing their genes on to the next generation if they had multiple partners, and women are attracted to good-looking men, she said, because it’s indicative of a healthy immune system or higher levels of testosterone.
Fisher has no use for her tapes, but researchers at Kinsey might.
Heading deeper into her 60s, Fisher has more personal items she wants to leave to the institute, including a 6-inch-wide stack of letters from fans of her speeches. She also has another stack of love letters. Thinking like an anthropologist, she wants researchers to have access to her as a human being, because it gives more context to the work.