Cow Horn Cupping in Croatia

Healing spas have a long tradition in Central and Eastern Europe, being used to alleviate a range of conditions from tuberculosis to infertility to depression. Although they fell somewhat out of vogue during parts of the twentieth century, the renaissance of what our biomedical culture calls “complementary and alternative medicine” has hastened the revival of many old spa towns. With the proliferation of discount flights from Western Europe, many small towns across the region are banking on medical tourism to help bolster otherwise flailing regional economies.

About 50 km from Zagreb in the region of Zagorje (perhaps best known as the county that gave birth to Tito), lies the village of Krapinske Toplice. Reputedly known as Aquae Vivae during the Roman era, the village’s thermal springs prompted the construction of its first bath in the mid-17th century. The first recorded account of the local waters being used medically stems from the early 18th century when a Viennese physician by the name of Stockhammer visited.   Within the Habsburg scientific and medical community the region’s reputation began to grow, prompting Baron Heinrich Johann Nepomuk von Cranz (a botanist and physician obsessed with mineral waters) to conduct chemical analyses of the springs.

It was not until the mid-19th century, however, that word of Krapinske Toplice truly began to spread. Much of the credit for this is owed to a man called Jakob Badl, himself a beneficiary of the famous waters which seemed to have cured his sciatica. In response, Badl bought the local pools, set up a hotel and restaurant (the Bellavue), and built the area’s first hospital, a building capable of housing 75 patient-clients at a time. From this point forward, the village’s famous waters became known as something of a top health destination, appearing in European tourist literature of the time. Beyond the Austro-Hungarian elite, a substantial number of people travelled from France and Italy in the hopes of solving their ailments.

Although foreign medical tourism declined during most parts of the twentieth century, the Socialist-era government attempted to prop it up by building the “Rudarskom” hotel (with indoor thermal pools) and opening the Special Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation. The clinic employed a number of social workers, psychologists, and “defectologists” (specialists in the study and treatment of physical and mental disability in children – a field perhaps most commonly associated with the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky), becoming something of a centre for mental and emotional wellbeing.

The village is still best known for its spas and Jakob Badl’s pioneering work in medical tourism has not been forgotten; he is held in such high esteem that the village now celebrates Badlfest (yes, for real) and modern tourists can even visit his mausoleum.

These undated (20th c.) photos are from the Wellcome Collection. They are described as being from the village’s “peasant spa” and some feature the practice of cupping through the use of cow horns.


‘The Perils of Peace: The Public Health Crisis in Occupied Germany’ is now Open Access

Jessica Reinisch’s The Perils of Peace has just been published as an Open Access monograph. You can download the full pdf from the OUP catalogue for free, here:


In The Perils of Peace Jessica Reinisch considers how the four occupiers – Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States – attempted to keep their own troops and the ex-enemy population alive. While the war was still being fought, German public health was a secondary consideration for them: an unaffordable and undeserved luxury. But once fighting ceased and the occupation began, it rapidly turned into an urgent priority. Public health was then recognized as an indispensable component of creating order, keeping the population governable, and facilitating the reconstruction of German society.

But they faced a number of problems in the process. Which Germans could be trusted to work with the occupiers and how were they to be identified? Who could be tolerated because of a lack of alternatives? How, if at all, could former Nazis be reformed and reintegrated into German society? What was the purpose of the occupation in the first place?

This is the first carefully researched comparison of the four occupation zones which looks at the occupation through the prism of public health, an essential service fundamentally shaped by political and economic criteria, and which in turn was to determine the success or failure of the occupation.

Hidden Persuaders: Histories of Brainwashing and the Psy-disciplines during the Cold War at Birkbeck, University of London

The Hidden Persuaders research group at Birkbeck, University of London headed by Daniel Pick have recently launched their website, blog and a series of events.


On the 3-4th of July they will host a conference, ‘Brainwash: History, Cinema and the Psy Professions’:

“Early cinema had frequently explored the hypnotic processes it was accused of inducing. But the intersecting fears of mind control at the movies and in the consulting room seemingly entered a new stage of complexity with the Cold War. New theoretical and visual languages of ‘brainwashing’ emerged, and the ideas of Pavlov and of Freud were often placed side by side. In the decades after 1950 (the year in which the word ‘brainwashing’ was coined), film further explored subliminal interference. Roles for ‘psy’ experts working for shadowy organisations were to feature, and the dangers of psychological experiment returned again and again.

Visions of ‘conditioning’ and ‘programming’ resonated on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Work such as Shivers (1981) by the Polish filmmaker Marczewski explored the communist indoctrination of young people. In the West, films such as The Mind Benders (1963), The Ipcress File (1965), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Parallax View (1974) played upon conjoined political and psychological terrors of brainwashing.  Most famous, ironic, and perhaps most imitated of all works in this tradition was The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Meanwhile, many specialist commentators in the human sciences explored the vulnerability of the ‘captive mind’, considered the psychic effects of ‘totalitarianism’, the nature of induced desires and manufactured anxieties, advertising, not to mention extreme sensory experiences (and deprivation) in shaping behaviour and thought. The limits of an individual—or a group’s—capacity to remember, to will, to know, and to organize were probed; and terms such as ‘regression’ and ‘automatism’ gained a substantial new purchase.

In this workshop we ask whether the Cold War obsession with brainwashing was a break with past narratives and anxieties over mental manipulation and suggestion. We consider how far cinema, television and video have been caught up in this history of hidden or coercive persuasion, and how far they have changed the terms of debate. What forms of human experimentation inspired interest in brainwashing, and vice versa?  And how and why did depictions of automatism on screen so often connect to fears of the ‘psy’ professions?”

Tickets are abailable here: