Conference Report: The History of Health and Disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945

Over the course of two days (14-15 October), the Institute of National Memory and the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences sponsored a conference entitled “The History of Health and Disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945.” Although a substantial portion of participants hailed from various research centres and history departments across Poland, a sizeable contingent of foreign scholars were also present (including the CEEHM network’s own Sarah Marks, Agata Ignaciuk, Dora Vargha, and Mat Savelli). Held at the “History Stop” in Central Warsaw, participants discussed and debated the key trends (and interpretation of these trends) that marked health and healthcare across the former Marxist-Leninist world.

After some introductory remarks from one of the chief organizers, Evelina Szpak, the conference began with what proved to be a highly controversial and emotionally charged panel on birth control, abortion, and childcare. With the exception of Donald Filtzer’s work on Soviet infant mortality, the panel was largely concerned with contraception and abortion practices in post-WWII Poland. Agata Ignaciuk, Sylwia Kuzma-Markowska, and Katarzyna Jarkiewicz gave papers from differing perspectives, with each prompting substantial debate from the audience. Some audience members had trouble restraining their emotions, with one individual loudly cursing the “black devil of gender” for apparently misguiding research in the subject. The participants all did remarkably well under difficult circumstances to not respond to provocation and address questions seriously. Subsequent panels, while still producing debate, discussion, and direct criticism, were conducted in a calmer climate.

The conference took a very broad approach to health, with presentations on subjects ranging from specific diseases (cancer and polio were both discussed in multiple papers) to the broader determinants of health, including the economy and environment (air pollution, degradation of waterways, etc.). A number of other papers concentrated on the structure and organization of healthcare services, with special attention to issues of professional training and autonomy which covered Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.

Despite concentrating on central and eastern Europe, many of the presenters incorporated global and transnational elements into their work. Anna Geltzer, for instance, discussed differences between American and Soviet ways of forming knowledge about anti-cancer drugs. Papers by Pavel Jaworski and Sylwia Szyc, meanwhile, made respective connections to Swedish aid agencies and orphans from North Korea.

The conference did a fine job illustrating the diversity of experience within the formerly Marxist-Leninist world. The papers demonstrated that the similarities in historical experience were, by and large, minimal and fairly superficial. It would be a stretch to describe “Communist health care” in any meaningful, transnational way. Instead, the work of the presenters underscored the need for historians to continue delving deeper into the divergences between East European countries and their connections with countries beyond the region.

The organizers should be thanked for putting on such a narrowly focused event as it allowed for discussions to dig deeper into key questions about medicine and health in this period. At typical meetings of medical historians, historians of central and east European medicine are often shoehorned into somewhat ill-fitting panels or left having to use most of their presentation explaining the context of the Communist world. While an understandable necessity, this conference nonetheless represented a welcome break from that experience. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the conference was simultaneously translated (quite adeptly) in Polish and English which allowed for participants (including the public) to engage in an equal level of speaking comfort.

CfP: The Many Faces of Late Socialism: The Individual in the “Eastern Bloc,” 1953-1988

CFP: The Many Faces of Late Socialism: The Individual in the “Eastern Bloc,” 1953-1988 (May 26-28, 2016, University of Cologne, Germany) – Research Workshop

How did individuals who grew up under state socialism experience and, in turn, influence what we now call ‘Late Socialism’? Individuals figure prominently in narratives about state socialism’s repressive character and passive or open resistance to “the system.” At the time, persecuted dissidents such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Adam Michnik, and Václav Havel represented the ideal of the unfaltering, independent mind. Today people like Jan Palach and the almost 10 million individuals who had joined Solidarność by 1981 remain firmly integrated into the narrative of Central Eastern Europe’s return to the fold of the “free world.” However, even though people participated in events that challenged socialist state power, the different versions of state socialism in Eastern Europe remained quiet stable between 1953 and 1988. And despite the whirlwind developments of perestroika, the eventual disintegration of state socialism took most people by surprise.

The purpose of this workshop is to gain a better understanding of both the stabilizing and the disruptive forces at work during Late Socialism by reexamining individuals’ views, milieus, everyday practices, and self-understandings. Continue reading

Call for Abstracts for AAHM panel Socialism and Health: a Global Exchange of Ideas and Practices

We invite submissions for abstracts to join the panel titled Socialism and Health: Socialism and Health: a Global Exchange of Ideas and Practices for the upcoming meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM) to be held in Minneapolis, April 29-May 1, 2016. The aim of this panel is to track how ideas of public health, a cornerstone in how socialist states had defined themselves, circulated among socialist countries and welfare states, which practices and concepts were adopted as opposed to others, and how local solutions fed back to the overall idea of health in national contexts. In sum, we ask to what extent can we talk about a distinctly socialist public health? As Cuba’s role in the Ebola epidemic, British debates on the structure of the NHS or rhetoric on American healthcare reform suggest, these are pressing questions even today. Confirmed panelists Miriam Gross (University of Oklahoma) will be addressing Chinese, while Dora Vargha (Birkbeck College, University of London) will be analysing Hungarian perspectives in the 1950s.

Please submit an abstract of no longer than 350 words, along with name, title and institutional affiliation to Dora Vargha at d.vargha@bbk.ac.uk by September 25. Feel free to contact with any questions and queries.

Soviet-era psychiatry in new issue of Cahiers du Monde russe

The new issue of Paris-based journal Cahiers du Monde russe includes two articles on psychiatry in the region during the Soviet period:

Sarah Marks ‘From Experimental Psychosis to Resolving Traumatic Pasts: Psychedelic Research in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1954-1974/ De la psychose expérimentale à la guérison des traumatismes du passé  : la recherche psychédélique en Tchécoslovaquie communiste, 1954‑1974’

Drawing on research papers, archives and scientific memoirs, this paper reconstructs the psychedelic research projects developed in Prague between 1954 and1974, situating psychiatric research in Communist Czechoslovakia within the transnational context of Cold War science. It traces attempts to induce experimental psychosis as a means of exploring the aetiology of schizophrenia; as well as the resilience of psychoanalytic theory and practice in Czechoslovakia, illustrated by approaches to psychotherapy using LSD as an accelerant. Time – and the subjective experience thereof – formed a fundamental part of the psychotherapeutic process, and the researchers explicitly utilized hallucinogenic drugs to actively manage patients’ memories of their own past within the controlled environment of the clinic and the therapeutic relationship. The use of pharmacological and psychological techniques to control experiences from the patient’s history for therapeutic purposes fitted into a wider progressive project for the improvement of human subjectivity itself: they appeared to offer a utopian method for revisiting and ultimately curing trauma. Ultimately, psychedelic research resonated with broader interests of socialist modernity, which was concerned with facilitating future human potential, and the use of science and technology to further social progress.

Gregory Dufaud ‘Quel usage des thèses pavloviennes en médecine? Schizophrénie, incertitudes scientifiques et psychiatrie en Union soviétique/ The use of Pavlov’s theories in medicine: schizophrenia, scientific uncertainty and psychiatry in the Soviet Union’

This article deals with psychiatric interpretations and uses of Pavlov’s theories. The author shows that the choice to base psychiatry on Pavlov’s theses was not self‑evident. It was made because it seemed likely to turn psychiatry into a modern specialty on par with other medical specialties or biological disciplines in terms of its truth regime. At stake in the redefinition of psychiatry were recognition and legitimacy concerns related to both the discredit that psychiatry had long suffered and the competition with physiology: as of the late 1920s, physiologists started to question psychiatry’s ability to apprehend mental illness and explain human functioning objectively. As it progresses, this study of the advent of physiological psychiatry shows the interrelation of production of knowledge, institutional reconfigurations and moral values.

CFP: Religion & Medicine Conference, Birkbeck, University of London 15-16 July 2016

This conference will explore the relationship between religion and medicine in the historic past, ranging over a long chronological framework and a wide geographical span. The conference’s focus will be primarily historical, and we welcome contributions which take an interdisciplinary approach to this topic.

Four main themes will provide the focus of the conference. The sub-themes are not prescriptive, but are suggested as potential subjects for consideration:

1. Healing the body and healing the soul
• Medical traditions: the non-natural environment and the ‘passions of the soul’.
• Religious traditions (for example, the Church Fathers, sermons and devotional literature).

2. The religious and medicine
• Medical knowledge and practice of religious personnel, including secular and regular clergy.
• Nurses and nursing.
• Medical practitioners, religious authorities and the regulation of medical activity and practice.

3. Religious responses
• Religious responses to epidemics, from leprosy to plague to pox and cholera.
• Medical missions in Europe and the wider world.
• Religion, humanitarianism and medical care.

4. Healing environments and religion
• Religious healing, miracles, pilgrimage.
• Institutional medical care (including hospitals, dispensaries and convalescent homes).

Proposals, consisting of a paper abstract (no more than 300 words) and a short biography (no more than 400 words), should be submitted to religionandmedicineconference@gmail.com by 30 October 2015. We will respond to proposals by early December. For more information please visit our website, and follow us on Twitter: @RelMedConf2016.

CFP: Cultures of Harm in Institutions of Care: Historical & Contemporary Perspectives

This two-day interdisciplinary conference will explore the shifting political, socio-economic, cultural and medical influences that have formed and perpetuated cultures of harm from the eighteenth century to the present day. We are particularly interested in the production of harmful practices – physical, sexual and psychological violence directed by one person or group against another – in therapeutic and caring environments, worldwide. These might include hospitals and infirmaries, psychiatric facilities, religious institutions, care homes, children’s homes and educational establishments, as well as infirmaries and medical spaces in prisons and correctional institutions, military barracks, camps and workhouses.

Please submit an abstract of up to 300 words together with a brief outline of your academic affiliation to trauma@mail.bbk.ac.uk by 20 September 2015.

Full details can be found at www.bbk.ac.uk/trauma/events

Psychiatry in Communist Europe – out today!

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CEEHM Network fellow editors Sarah Marks and Mat Savelli have put together a wonderful and groundbreaking volume in the Mental Health in Historical Perspectives series of Palgrave. This is the first book to address the history of psychiatry under Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union to East Germany. It brings together new research addressing understandings of mental health and disorder, treatments and therapies, and the interplay between politics, ideology and psychiatry. It challenges assumptions about the extent of political control, exploring beyond the instances of punitive abuse of psychiatry, and recognizing the international exchanges which informed the development of research and practice in the region.

More details and full review to follow. Until then, sign up to get your copy hot off the presses at the publisher or Amazon!

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: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199660797.do

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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.

http://www.bbk.ac.uk/hiddenpersuaders/

brainwashing

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: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brainwash-history-cinema-and-the-psy-professions-tickets-16380168525