A Forgotten Episode of International Health

In this month’s post on UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland‘s blog, Dr Dora Vargha, University of Exeter, uncovers the neglected role of the Socialist Bloc and Eastern Europe in the history international public health. Dora argues that rectifying this omission is essential to capture a complete picture of international and global public health in the crucial era following the postwar settlement. 

The Establishment of the World Health Organization

The establishment of the World Health Organization is no doubt a crucial and fundamental moment in the history of international (and global) public health. The leadership, ideas and early decades in the unfolding Cold War can be assembled through biographies of Director-Generals, the Organizations own chronicle of its first decades and through histories of malaria eradication. However, certain equally important aspects of the early years of the WHO, like the sudden exit of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe shortly after the establishment of the organization merit little more than a mention in these histories.

The Socialist Bloc and the Missing History of the WHO

This omission from the historiography is not entirely surprising. The Socialist Bloc, and Eastern Europe in general has been, until recently, missing from international health narratives on the whole, despite foundational Eastern European figures in its history such as Andrija Stampar, key member of the League of Nations Health Organization (LNHO) and president of the First World Health Assembly, and Ludwik Rajchman, director of the LNHO and founder of UNICEF. Often seen as a politically homogeneous area under complete Soviet control in the postwar era, Eastern European countries have not been considered to have agency in international health during the Cold War.
But the history of international and global health has a lot to gain by including the Socialist Bloc in the picture. This unexplored history points to questions whether international health always happens within organizational structures of international agencies and through philanthropic entities such as the Rockefeller Foundation; what the stakes were in this Cold War divide in the formative years of the WHO; and the extent to which we can talk about a unified response within the Socialist Bloc to diplomatic and public health challenges in their time outside of the organization.

Continue reading the original blog post here.


Research assistant posts at University of Huddersfield

Three full time Research Assistants are required for the project European Healthcare before Welfare States under the direction of Professor Barry Doyle. You will work within the Centre for Health Histories (CHH) to undertake secondary and primary research into the provision of healthcare in one of Poland, Czechoslovakia or Hungary between the wars. The Research Assistants will focus on the following priorities:

  • Undertake a desk based literature review of current work in English and other languages in the field of interwar healthcare in one of Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia 1900-1940.
  • Undertake up to two months field work in archives and libraries in one of Poland, Hungary or Czech Republic/Slovakia.
  • Support the development of an international network around the theme of European Healthcare before Welfare States.
  • Along with the project Principal Investigator, develop partnerships with non-academic partners.
  • Work with the Principal Investigator and other Research Assistants to mount an international workshop in December 2016.
  • Produce a report of fieldwork and present findings to a workshop.
  • Contribute to a collective article with the Principal Investigator and other Research Assistants on sources and methods for the study of healthcare in the region between the wars.

With a good Honours degree and an MA in modern health or social history of Central Europe, you will also have fluency in one or (more) of Polish, Czech, Slovakian or Magyar.

For informal discussions please contact the Principal Investigator, Professor Barry Doyle 01484 471625: Email b.m.doyle@hud.ac.uk

For further details about this post and to make an application, visit http://hud.ac/b5z

Closing date: 06 June 2016
Interview date: 30 June 2016

Post-socialism, the psy-ences and mental health

The April 2016 issue of Transcultural Psychiatry includes a new article by Eugene Raikhel and Dörte Bemme :


Over the past decades, the formerly socialist countries of East Central Europe and Eurasia have experienced a range of transformations which bear directly upon the domains of mental health, psychiatry, and psychology. In particular, the disciplines and professions concerned with the human mind, brain, and behavior (“the psy-ences”) were strongly affected by sociopolitical changes spanning the state-socialist and postsocialist periods. These disciplines’ relationship to the state, their modes of knowledge production, and the epistemic order and subjectivities they contributed to have all undergone dramatic ruptures. In this essay, we trace the literature on these issues across three thematic domains: (a) history and memory; (b) the reform of psychiatry in an era of global mental health; and (c) therapy and self-fashioning. We argue for a closer articulation between the social science and historical literature on socialism and its “posts” and the literature among anthropologists, sociologists, and historians on the sciences of the mind and brain, and we suggest that each of these literatures helps to critically open up and enrich the other.

Kateřina Lišková on the history of sexology in Communist Czechoslovakia

History of the Human Sciences have recently published an article by Kateřina Lišková of Masaryk University in Brno:


‘”Now you see them, now you don’t”. Sexual deviants and sexological expertise in Communist Czechoslovakia’

Despite its historical focus on aberrant behavior, sexology barely dealt with sexual deviants in 1950s Czechoslovakia. Rather, sexologists treated only isolated instances of deviance. The rare cases that went to court appeared mostly because they hindered work or harmed the national economy. Two decades later, however, the situation was markedly different. Hundreds of men were labeled as sexual delinquents and sentenced for treatment in special sexological wards at psychiatric hospitals. They endangered society, so it was claimed, by being unwilling or unable to conform to the family norm. The mode of subjection shifted from work to family. I analyse this change by using the tools of Gil Eyal’s sociology of expertise (2013), which focuses on shifts in institutional matrices that bring forth new groups of agents creating new expert networks. I argue that sexology became profoundly institutionalized in the early 1970s, which brought the discipline closer to psychiatry and forensic science. New inpatient facilities were opened that could admit sentenced sexual deviants. Also, demographic changes accelerated in the 1960s, especially skyrocketing divorce rates and plummeting birth rates, which made it imperative for the government to focus on cementing the family. After the failed attempts of the Prague Spring in 1968, the new pro-Soviet government of communist Czechoslovakia did just that. During the time dubbed as ‘normalization’ by the new elites, anyone who strayed from the family norm was suspected of deviance.

European Healthcare before Welfare States

The Centre for Health Histories at the University of Huddersfield has received an award by the University research Fund for a project designed to enhance the international research and profile of the Centre. The project will include a focused pilot project to collect data on health care systems in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia to build knowledge in an area with little published research in either local languages or English. The Centre will also appoint of 3 visiting professors on short term placements in Huddersfield to develop projects, co-write for international journals and prepare funding bids.

The aim of the focused pilot project is to identify a primary source base to explore how hospital provision was established, managed and funded in the successor states of East Central Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) created in 1918. It will examine these developments from a ground up approach to explore the practical process of building health care provision at a local level. It will seek to locate suitable source material to undertake local case studies of hospital services.

The project will use international comparison across three countries and will open up opportunities to examine healthcare in diverse economic, social and political situations. It will draw on Doyle’s comparative work on Anglo-French hospital services which utilised urban case studies to assess the day-to-day operation of healthcare before welfare states. Healthcare provision in the three nations chosen for this project Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary has received limited attention from historians. Much of the English language work has focused on the activities of the Rockefeller Foundation, between 1918-25, while studies of early national health policy have concentrated on links between eugenics and local services. Local studies of provision remain rare.

The team will conduct literature reviews, archival scoping and the collection of some pilot data with the help of research assistants with high-level competence in Czech, Polish and Hungarian respectively. After an initial period reviewing literature and identifying appropriate collections, the RAs will spend up to two months in their respective countries exploring archival sources, undertaking initial data collection and meeting with potential collaborators and project partners. The research visit will include a period in the capital identifying national records, print sources and medical journals and some time in a provincial centre scoping local archival material such as hospital records, local authority material, newspapers. In the final two months they will write up reports to include assessment of the scope and quality of archival material, the problems and possibilities offered by the source base and the initial pilot data collected. This material will be presented in a plenary workshop involving ten-fifteen academics interested in interwar health care provision in a European context. There will also be a co-authored article on the findings of the project for submission to a major medical history journal.

The goal of the project is to make a significant contribution to the history of health care provision by opening up local records in East-Central Europe for researchers and by placing hospital development in these countries in a Europe wide context. In particular, they will view these developments from the ground up examining the practical process of building health care provision at a local level. Integrating East Central Europe into the history of European hospitals will challenge existing paradigms based on the relatively wealthy, urban and politically stable states of western Europe that currently dominate the historiography and offer an opportunity to explore the role of health care in national identity formation.

Find out more about the Centre and the project here.


Postdoctoral fellowships at UPitt

UCIS Postdoctoral Fellowships in Russian & East European Studies for 2016-18

The University of Pittsburgh is offering two postdoctoral fellowships—one in the arts and humanities, and one in the social sciences and professional disciplines—to begin in September 2016 for scholars whose work focuses on Russia, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet regions of Eurasia. These fellowships are designed to offer junior scholars the time, space, and financial support necessary to produce significant scholarship early in their careers while simultaneously building their teaching records.

The UCIS Postdoctoral Fellowships in Russian & East European Studies are for two years, renewable for an additional (third) year. Fellows will be expected to pursue their own scholarly work and participate in the academic and intellectual activities of UCIS and REES, as well as the department or professional school with which they are affiliated.

Each of the UCIS/REES Fellows will teach one course in the first year, two in the second year, and two in the third year if the fellowship is extended. The specific courses to be taught will be determined according to fellows’ interests and the needs of their departments and REES. However, it is anticipated that each fellow will co-teach the interdisciplinary REES capstone course, through which undergraduate students undertake a major research project as part of the REES certificate program requirements, at least once during the fellowship period. Fellows will also be expected to support the Center’s annual graduate and undergraduate student conferences and other Center outreach activities.

The annual stipend will be $40,000, plus benefits. The UCIS/REES Fellows are eligible to apply for REES Faculty Small Grants, up to $3,000 annually, to support their research agenda.

Eligibility: We invite applications from qualified candidates in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and professional disciplines who have received the PhD or final professional degree from a university other than the University of Pittsburgh no earlier than December 2013.  Applicants who do not have the PhD in hand at the time of application must provide a letter from their department chair or advisor stating that the PhD degree will be conferred before the term of the fellowship begins.  The fellowship may not begin before the candidate has actually received the PhD or equivalent final degree in a professional discipline. Strong preference will be given to candidates whose application is supported by an agreement from a current University of Pittsburgh faculty member to serve as mentor for the candidate during the period of the fellowship.

Apply by December 31, 2015 online at submittable (www.ucis.submittable.com/submit/48448). Applicants must clearly specify whether their application is for the UCIS Postdoctoral Fellowship in Russian & East European Studies: Arts and Humanities or the UCIS Postdoctoral Fellowship in Russian & East European Studies: Social Sciences and Professional Disciplines. All applications must include:

1.  Application form

2.  Curriculum vitae

3.  Statement of current research interests that outlines the goals of the research to be undertaken during the term of the fellowship (1,000 words maximum).

4.  One writing sample no longer than 25 pages

5.  Copy of the Dissertation Table of Contents

6.  Two-page statement of teaching interests and two course proposals (including subject area, brief syllabus and proposed methods) for 15-week courses directed toward advanced undergraduates or graduate students. Applicants should address their interest/preparedness to teach the REES undergraduate capstone course as part of their two-page statement.

7. Names, professional titles, and email addresses of three references

Applications must be submitted by December 31, 2015.  Only complete applications will be considered. A committee will review all applications and contact a smaller pool of candidates for Skype interviews. Final notifications will take place by March 1, 2016.

The University of Pittsburgh is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educator. Women, minorities, and international candidates are especially encouraged to apply.

Conference Report: Psychiatry in Europe after WWII

Over 30-31 October, Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence: Asia and Europe in a Global Context played host to conference that brought together historians and clinical practitioners from across the world to discuss psychiatry in the post-WWII context.  Held at the Karl Jaspers Centre, Psychiatry in Europe after World War II (Psychiatrie in Europa nach dem Zweiten Weltkreig) grappled with a simple but important question: was WWII a turning point for the development of psychiatry?  If so, what about the war shifted European psychiatry into a new direction? What were the primary changes brought about and were these changes reflected across Europe?

The meeting was introduced by Maike Rotzoll, herself a psychiatrist and historian, who presciently highlighted some further questions that were addressed by most of the presenters.  How and how much did the East-West conflict affect psychiatric development?  What role did supranational entities like the WHO play in shaping mental healthcare?  What hallmarks, if any, mark “postwar psychiatry?”  She placed much stress on the need for historians to consider issues of continuity and discontinuity when assessing mental healthcare after 1945.


Nearly twenty countries were touched upon by participants, with CEE-related papers given on the GDR (Gerrit Hohendorf, Deitmar Schulze, Ekkehardt Kumbier, Christof Beyer), Estonia (Ken Kalling and Erki Tammiksaar), Czechoslovakia (Michal Simunek and Milan Novak), Poland (Darius Myszka), Yugoslavia (Mat Savelli), and Russia (Frank Gruner).  The global nature of the conference (extending beyond Europe to include presentations by scholars working on Japan (Akihito Suzuki), the United States (Marion Schmidt), and Israel (Rakefet Zalashik)) highlighted the need to approach psychiatric history transnationally.  For example, the presentation on Yugoslavia linked up closely to Duncan Double’s work on the UK-based Maxwell Jones and John Foot’s research on Italy’s Franco Basaglia.  Postwar Japanese psychiatry, on the other hand, cannot be understood separately from American and German developments.

Recurring topics across papers included the importance of studying the prewar (and in some cases, postwar) eugenics movement, the brutal mistreatment of the mentally ill in Nazi Germany and occupied territories, and psychiatry’s desire to establish itself as a material science in the postwar period.


Moving forward, the papers made clear the central importance of the social psychiatry movement to postwar developments in mental healthcare, despite its relatively low historiographical profile.  It also became apparent that far more work must be done on the transmission and reception of ideas linked to critical psychiatry and anti-psychiatry; these movements were received (and unfolded) very differently depending on context.

The conference concluded with a guided tour of Heidelberg’s famous Prinzhorn collection – paintings, sculptures, and other art created by individuals diagnosed with mental illness – which was originally given to the university by psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn.  Many thanks to the chief organizers (Maike Rotzoll and Frank Gruner) for a wonderful meeting.

(Images take from the Prinzhorn Collection: www.http://prinzhorn.ukl-hd.de/)


Pre-modern Medicine in Bohemia – seminar at the Wellcome Library

The next seminar in the 2015–16 History of Pre-Modern Medicine Seminar Series takes place on Tuesday 24th November.

Speaker: Professor Michael Stolberg

Humanist self-fashioning and ordinary medical practice. The Bohemian physician Georg Handsch (1529–c. 1578) and his notebooks

L0025259 A medical practitioner examining urine brought by his patien Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A medical practitioner examining urine brought by his patients. Painted relief after Giotto. Oil Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/


The professional identity of learned physicians underwent some major changes in the 16th century. The rise of humanism reshaped the world of the ‘res publica literaria’ in which learned physicians prominently participated. At the same time, growing numbers of physicians settled in large and small towns all over Central and Western Europe and sought to make a living as medical practitioners. Drawing on the voluminous notebooks of a little known and rather unsuccessful Bohemian physician by the name of Georg Handsch, and some other physicians’ letters and practice journals, this paper will take a look at the ways in which fairly ‘ordinary’ physicians coped with this tension: how they self-fashioned themselves as humanist intellectuals, but also engaged with the medical lay-world and interacted with (and learnt from) the townsfolk in an effort to secure a place in urban society and to hold their own in the medical marketplace.


Wellcome Library, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.

Doors open at 6pm, seminar will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th century medicine).


CFP: After the End of Disease

London, May 26-27, 2016

Public and academic discussions on the end of diseases are abundant in the midst of recent epidemic crises. Faltering vaccination rates have seen old diseases, like measles and whooping cough resurface to epidemic proportions in the Global North. Several global epidemic crises, such as the swine flu and ebola, have prompted international organizations, local governments, pharmaceutical companies, research institutions and individuals to respond in manifold ways with the aim of controlling and eventually ending epidemic diseases. Ending diseases for good have been the goal of several eradication campaigns over the 20th century and are the focus of global projects such as the polio eradication initiative, spearheaded by the a public-private partnership including the WHO, the CDC, UNICEF, the Rotary and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In his now classic article ‘What is an epidemic?’, Charles Rosenberg pointed out that epidemics as social phenomena work with a particular dramaturgic form of increasing tension, crisis and eventual closure. Scholarly analysis, historical or contemporary, has tended to follow this narrative, focusing on prevention, outbreaks, epidemic crises, upheaval, and the end of disease. What happens after the end is more often than not left to epilogues, or addressed only in relation to a new, emerging disease on the cusp of crisis. Yet, diseases are often imprinted on the bodies of survivors, societies and cultures. Epidemics may change economic structures, social interaction, shape practices of international intervention and attitudes towards healthcare. In some cases, the proclaimed end of a disease leaves individuals or whole societies and states without resources previously guaranteed by the perceived epidemic threat. In others, the action of looking back after the end creates space for making moral judgements on individuals, societies, governments and international organizations.

This conference brings together historians of medicine and global public health, anthropologists and sociologists with policy makers to think past the conventional narrative curve of epidemics and disease in general. Proposals that address one or several of the following questions are particularly welcome:

  • How do states, societies and international organizations prepare for the end of a disease? Do they prepare at all?
  • What happens to the disease itself after the end?
  • What are the lasting consequences of epidemic diseases that linger on after the end?
  • What happens when a disease makes a comeback?
  • Who and when decides if a disease is over? Where and for whom do diseases end and who is excluded/forgotten?
  • How does the action of determining the “end” of an epidemic (e.g. ebola, polio, etc.) affect those involved: those who fear, those who prepare, those who cure, those who survive?
  • What happens if the end of a disease fails to arrive?

Deadline to submit abstracts up to 300 words is December 1, 2015.

Please send abstracts and any queries to d.vargha@bbk.ac.uk

Contact details:

Dora Vargha

Postdoctoral Research Associate
Department of History, Classics and Archeology
Birkbeck, University of London