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Dr Sarah Marks

BA (UCL), MRes (UCL), MA (UCL), PhD (UCL)

Lecturer in Modern History
UKRI Future Leaders Fellow


Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street



  • Sarah Marks researches the history of science and medicine - particularly the psychological disciplines and mental health - from the Cold War to the present, from a transnational and comparative perspective. She was awarded her PhD from UCL in 2015, and held a research fellowship at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge before joining Birkbeck in October 2016.
  • Her current project, funded by a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship, examines the rise of cognitive and behavioural therapies since 1948. CBT is now the most widely-used talking treatment in the contemporary world, with significant political and economic backing within the UK health service. Its techniques are also widely influential in private psychotherapeutic practice, self-help, social work, educational, occupational and criminal justice contexts. It is also one of the most controversial treatments, widely discussed in the public sphere, with some clinicians and service users arguing it is a "quick fix" that fails to address individuals' complex emotional, social and economic needs. Others, by contrast, campaign vehemently for its expansion. These contemporary debates lack a historical background - and professional politics often obscure the experiences of patients and clients themselves.
  • This research will address this gap. The adoption and development of behaviour therapies since the 1950s, and CBT in recent years, has been closely bound up with the history of the NHS, the rise of evidence-based medicine, and changing understandings of the individual and the welfare state. Given the prominence of cognitive and behavioural approaches in contemporary society, a critical eye needs to be cast upon the history of its emergence and justifications for its use. Crucially, the experiences of service users need to be written into the story, through extensive oral history interviews. As part of this project, she is also developing collaborative research partnerships to examine the debates surrounding the use of CBT and related mental health treatments in ‘Global Mental Health’ settings.
  • Sarah has also carried out extensive research on Central and Eastern Europe and the Soviet sphere. Drawing on sources in Czech, Slovak, German and Russian, she reconstructed the ways in which mental health and illness were understood and treated in the Communist context, asking how psy-professionals interacted with the regime and transnational networks, and how psychological knowledge became useful for the project of building socialism. She also explores the legacies of this for post-socialist mental health policy and reform. This research underpins her forthcoming monograph, Captive Minds: Madness, Mind Control and Mental Health in Cold War Czechoslovakia.
  • She has taught, supervised and examined on various topics in History, Politics, East European Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Birkbeck, the University of Cambridge, St. Mary’s University and UCL. Her research has been taken up by the WHO Regional Office in Europe, BBC Radio’s ‘Archive on 4’ and ‘Free Thinking’, The Wellcome Collection, and the British Psychological Society. She is also Reviews Editor and an editorial board member for History of the Human Sciences.
  • Sarah welcomes applications from PhD students interested in researching the history of modern science and medicine – particularly the history of the human sciences and mental health - as well as projects on the intellectual, cultural or political history of Central and Eastern Europe and the Soviet world.
  • Since 2017 she has also been collaborating with Professor Daniel Pick and the Hidden Persuaders research group, Birkbeck’s Derek Jarman Lab, the Freud Museum, and north London schools on a public engagement project with funding from the Wellcome Trust. This has led to an exhibition and a series of filmmaking workshops and screenings on ideas about brainwashing and hidden persuasion in history, science and culture.


  • Journal articles
  • ‘The Romani Minority, Coercive Sterilizations, and Languages of Denial in the Czech Lands’, History Workshop Journal, 84, Autumn 2017, pp. 128-148
  • ‘Suggestion, Persuasion and Work: Psychotherapies in Communist Europe’, European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 20:1 2018
  • ‘Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective’, History of the Human Sciences, 30:2, 2017, pp. 3-16 doi: 10.1177/0952695117703243
  • 'From Experimental Psychosis to Resolving Traumatic Pasts: Psychedelic Research in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1954-1974', Cahiers du monde russe, 56:1, 2015, pp. 53-75
  • Edited Book
  • (edited with Mat Savelli) Psychiatry in Communist Europe (Palgrave, 2015)
  • Journal Special Issues
  • ‘Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective’ special issue of History of the Human Sciences, 30:2, 2017
  • ‘Psychotherapy in Europe’ special issue of History of the Human Sciences, 31:4, 2018,
  • Book chapters
  • (co-authored with Mat Savelli and Melissa Ricci) ‘Historical Perspectives on Madness and Mental lllness’ in Mat Savelli, James Gillett and Gavin J. Andrews (eds) An Introduction to Mental Health and Illness. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019). In press.
  • (co-authored with Mat Savelli) 'Communist Europe and Transnational Psychiatry' in Mat Savelli and Sarah Marks (eds) Psychiatry in Communist Europe (Palgrave, 2015)
  • 'Ecology, Humanism and Mental Health in Communist Czechoslovakia' in Mat Savelli and Sarah Marks (eds) Psychiatry in Communist Europe (Palgrave, 2015)
  • 'Psychologists as Therapists: Behavioural Traditions' in John Hall, David Pilgrim and Graham Turpin (eds) Clinical Psychology in Britain: Historical Perspectives (British Psychological Society, 2015)
  • 'CBT in Britain: Historical Development and Contemporary Situation' in Windy Dryden (ed.) Cognitive Behaviour Therapies (London: Sage, 2012)
  • Policy report
  • (contributor) WHO Regional Office in Europe, ‘Culture and Reform of Mental Health Care in Central and Eastern Europe.’ Geneva: World Health Organization, 2018.
  • Writing for a popular audience
  • ‘What difference has the opening of the archives since 1991 made to the historiography of Communism and the Cold War?’ in Jessica Reinisch and David Brydan (eds) Exploring and Teaching Twentieth Century History. (The Historical Association, 2019) In press.
  • (co-authored with Charlie Williams and Daniel Pick) ‘The Hidden Persuaders’ 6-part digital series, The Wellcome Collection
  • (co-authored with Daniel Pick) ‘Radicalization: Lessons on Mind Control from the 1950s’ The World Today, February 2017.
  • Book reviews
  • ‘Review of Leslie Topp. Freedom and the Cage: Modern Architecture and Psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914.’ Social History of Medicine. In press.
  • ‘Review of Ana Antic. Therapeutic Fascism: Experiencing the Violence of the Nazi New Order in Yugoslavia.’ Social History of Medicine, 31:1 (2018), pp. 661-663
  • ‘Review of Mitchell Ash and Jan Surman (eds) Ash, Mitchell G. and Jan Surman. The Nationalization of Scientific Knowledge in the Habsburg Empire, 1848-1918.’ Central Europe, 14 (2016), pp. 72-74
  • 'Review of Volker Roelcke, Paul Weindling and Louise Westwood (eds), International Relations in Psychiatry: Britain, Germany and the United States to World War II' Social History of Medicine, 25 (2012) pp. 552-553
  • Blog Posts
  • ‘On UFOs and the Cold War Human Sciences: An Interview with Greg Eghigian’, Hidden Persuaders Blog, 20th November 2017
  • ‘Brainwashing in Communist Czechoslovakia – And After’, Hidden Persuaders Blog, 6thSeptember 2017
  • ‘Across the Iron Curtain’, Hidden Persuaders Blog, 10th May 2017
  • ‘On the Unexamined Presence of Psychotherapeutics: An Interview with Sarah Marks’, History of the Human Sciences Blog, 4th May 2017
  • 'Psychotherapy Across the Atlantic', History of the Human Sciences Blog, 21st December 2018,

Professional membership

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Affiliated Scholar, Department of History & Philosophy of Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • Reviews editor and editorial board member, History of the Human Sciences
  • Section Editor for Central and Eastern Europe, H-Madness Blog
  • Member of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies
  • Member of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies
  • Member of the British Society for the History of Science


  • Birkbeck Public Engagement Award for Collaboration, 2019 (with Daniel Pick, the Hidden Persuaders project, and the Derek Jarman Lab)
  • British Association for Slavonic & East European Studies Women’s Forum Article Prize, 2019
  • Funding awards from the UKRI, Wellcome Trust, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the German Historical Society