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Reluctant Internationalists

A History of Public Health and International Organisations, Movements and Experts in Twentieth Century Europe

Throughout the century, concerns about public health crises (real or imagined) were primary catalysts for international solutions, structures and mechanisms, which spurred or forced policy-makers at local and national levels into international action, often reluctantly. The Reluctant Internationalists, a project funded by the Wellcome Trust (2013 to 2017, £752, 995), and led by Dr Jessica Reinisch, inspects the history of international collaboration and ambitions of medical professionals, politicians, generals, diplomats and policy-makers in twentieth century Europe.

Today’s news is dominated by question marks over the future of international institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union, or debates about the nature of international collaboration in response to natural disasters such as those in Haiti, Japan and the Philippines. This project assesses the history of such concerns in twentieth century Europe. The international mechanisms and organisations inaugurated throughout the century often came into existence during emergency situations as a result of tough-minded decisions by military generals, politicians and their policy-makers, who attempted to balance contradictory priorities and clashing agendas, and none of whom operated solely, or at all, out of idealistic causes. Their responses to medical crises and humanitarian disasters created a system of international procedures, structures, mechanisms and organisations which continues until today.

The Reluctant Internationalists is a four-year project funded by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. The core research team, led by Dr Jessica Reinisch, comprises Ana Antic, Dora Vargha and Johanna Conterio-Geisler (postdoctoral researchers), and David Bryan (PhD student). For more information, see the project website:

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