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.