From September 2013 I will be running a four year project entitled The Reluctant Internationalists: A History of Public Health and International Organisations, Movements and Experts in Twentieth Century Europe", funded by my Wellcome Investigator Award.
The project looks at ideas and forms of internationalism, and the international ambitions of doctors, medical researchers, relief workers, public health teams, politicians, generals, diplomats and policy-makers in the twentieth century. It seeks to change the way we think about the history of internationalism and international organisations.
Throughout the century, overwhelming impulses for international action stemmed from public health crises and the need for collaboration on questions of medical relief beyond national boundaries. The physical destruction in the aftermaths of the two world wars, mass population movements, the rise in the numbers of stateless people and region-wide famines, for example, all prompted concerns about global epidemics and public health disasters, and resulted in specific, closely circumscribed, international mechanisms. The project explores the roles played by debates about public health and real or imagined health crises in the formation of international structures, mechanisms and organisations.
As part of this, I am working on a book-length study of UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. My recent research has focused on the multitude of refugees and displaced people in Central-Eastern Europe after 1945. It explores issues surrounding the different refugee categories' entitlements to care and welfare and charts the formation of international organisations to tackle the refugee crises. The research aims to contrasts the often conflicting international and national priorities in the management of the refugee threat and considers the impact of the population upheavals on the reconstruction of European societies.
My first monograph, The Perils of Peace, is a comparative study of how the problem of public health challenged the four war-time allies and how their assessments changed and developed as their occupation of Germany went underway. The study reveals the great extent to which the character and scope of public health work in each zone were shaped by administrative, political and economic problems, and, conversely, the regularity with which prospering public health was understood to be at the heart of a German revival.
- With Matthew Frank I organised a conference on "The Forty Years' Crisis: Refugees in Europe, 1919-1959" (14-16 September 2010, Birkbeck). The keynote lectures by Prof Michael Marrus and Dr Zara Steiner can now be downloaded as podcasts. Mira Siegelberg's conference report is published in History Workshop Journal, Vol.71, No.1, Spring 2011.