black sea

CfP: Landscapes of Health: The Black Sea in the Socialist World


The Black Sea in the Socialist World

Birkbeck College, University of London
February 6-7, 2015

Supported by the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, The Wellcome Trust, The Society for the Social History of Medicine, and The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Call for Papers

In May 1962, shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet premiere Nikita Khrushchev toured Bulgaria. Under banners declaring “Forward, to Communism!” at a mass meeting in Varna, a Bulgarian health resort, Khrushchev lauded the Bulgarian people for the way in which they had developed the Black Sea coastline. Model health resorts like Varna, which drew visitors from all over the world, were the pride of the Bulgarian people, he claimed. These resorts demonstrated the commitment of the socialist states to the health and welfare of the people. He contrasted the health resorts on the socialist side of the Black Sea to the NATO missile build-up across the sea in Turkey. The health resorts of the Black Sea demonstrated the peace-loving nature of the socialist states to the world. “The Black Sea should be a sea of peace and the friendship of the peoples,” he argued.

While interest in the place of the Black Sea in the history of tourism, public health and architecture has grown rapidly in recent years, leading to ground-breaking studies, these works have treated each topic and national context in isolation. Works on Cold War diplomacy, too, have not taken into full consideration the position of the Black Sea as a site of cultural and political diplomacy in the socialist world. This workshop seeks to bring together historians studying the Black Sea or whose work involves the Black Sea from a variety of perspectives and both historians of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. The objective of the workshop is to develop the idea of the Black Sea littoral as an international meeting place of the socialist world.

As Khrushchev’s words suggested, the idea of the socialist Black Sea was closely linked to ideas of health and welfare during times of peace. The Black Sea littoral became a favoured health retreat of the political elite and soon became a setting for high politics and diplomatic negotiations. With the Yalta conference (February 4-11, 1945), the place of the Black Sea as a site of East-West diplomacy was formalized. But the Black Sea also became a place of less formal international exchange. From international children’s camps to delegation visits, at the Black Sea people from the socialist world introduced visitors from all over the world to the socialist way of life, in a Cold War contest fought over standards of living.

Participants are sought to present papers which may but will not necessarily fall into the following themes: The divided sea in the Cold War; the political context of Soviet-Turkish, East-West and socialist relations; ideas of Europe; international law; mobility, migration and tourism; commodities; socialist design and urban planning; environmental health; international congresses and festivals, and environmental history. Papers relating to all countries of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR, and which emphasize transnational and international components, are welcome.

Informal enquiries are welcome. Please send paper titles and abstracts (around 300 words) by November 15, 2014 to j.conterio@bbk.ac.uk. Workshop papers will be pre-circulated and are due January 15, 2015.

Contact Details
Dr Johanna Conterio, conference convener
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Birkbeck College, University of London
Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
26-28 Russell Square
London, United Kingdom, WC1B 5DQ
j.conterio@bbk.ac.uk
http://www.bbk.ac.uk/reluctantinternationalists

Dora Vargha’s upcoming talk at LSHTM

On October 16, Dora Vargha will give a talk at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as a part of the Centre for History in Public Health and the Vaccine Centre lunchtime seminar series. Dora’s presentation, titled ‘ When polio became global: a pre-history of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’, addresses the development of international concepts and practices in polio prevention in the post-war decades and explores the ways in which the scientific practices, intertwined with Cold War politics of the 1950s and 1960s, were formative to the current polio eradication campaign (the full abstract is available here). This paper forms a part of Dora’s new research project undertaken under the auspices of ‘Reluctant Internationalists’, and will be a great opportunity for anyone interested to engage with this exciting topical theme. The talk will take place at LG9, LSHTM, Keppel Street Building, at 12:45-2pm. Admission is free and open to all. For more information, please visit the LSHTM seminar website.

 Dora Vargha seminar flyer with pic copy

Welcome back to a new academic year!

While we were away from our blog, the researchers of the Reluctant Internationalists were busy this summer. A number of us saw publications come out, which may be of interest to some of our readers.

Dora Vargha published an article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, “Between East and West: Polio Vaccination across the Iron Curtain in Cold War Hungary” (v. 88, no. 2, Summer 2014), which is part of her larger book project, Iron Curtain/Iron Lungs: Governing Polio in the Cold War.

Jessica Reinisch edited, with Matthew Frank, a special issue of Contemporary European History, “Refugees and the Nation-State in Europe, 1919–59,” (v. 49, no. 3, July 2014), which examines how refugees and refugee crises were defined and managed by European nation-states in the forty years after the First World War. Read their introduction for a sketch of the historical context of the refugee problem in Europe and an analysis of the common themes of the papers.

The special issue continues conversations started at a conference Jessica Reinisch and Matthew Frank convened at Birkbeck in 2010, “The Forty Years’ Crisis: Refugees in Europe, 1919-1959.”

Ana Antic published two articles: “Heroes and Hysterics: ‘Partisan Hysteria’ and Communist State-building in Yugoslavia after 1945,” in Social History of Medicine (v. 27, no. 3, August 2014), and, earlier this year, “Therapeutic Fascism: ‘Re-educating’ Communists in Serbia, 1942-1944,” in History of Psychiatry (v. 25, no. 1, March 2014). Both articles are part of her larger research project on the development of psychiatry and psychiatric culture under the conditions of Nazi occupation in Eastern Europe and in its immediate aftermath.

In other publishing news, Dora Vargha was awarded the 2014 Young Scholar Book Award by the International Committee for the History of Technology for her dissertation, Iron Curtain, Iron Lungs: Governing Polio in Cold War Hungary, completed at Rutgers University in 2013.

Also over the summer, we hosted our first major workshop, “Agents of Internationalism”. Thank you to all the participants who made that workshop a great success. Please keep your eye out for further posts about the workshop and about our work together with our first visiting fellow, Elidor Mehilli, Assistant Professor at Hunter College in New York.

This will be a very eventful year for our research group, so please keep your eye out for more details about upcoming talks, events and publications, and for calls for papers. In the meantime, welcome back, and we wish everyone a good start to the new term.

A brief history of World Health Day

WHO headquarters on World Health Day

WHO headquarters on World Health Day

The 65th annual celebration of World Health Day took place last week on 7th April, with a global launch of the Small Bite: Big Threat campaign against vector-borne diseases at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters. Over half of the global population is at risk of diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever, all of which are preventable but which but have the biggest impact on some of the world’s poorest people. To highlight the risks to travellers, WHO staff installed a 3-D illustration of a giant mosquito at Heathrow Airport and distributed World Health Day boarding passes to passengers, drawing attention to the danger of vector-borne diseases and the simple measures they can take to protect themselves.

‘World Health Days’, the WHO’s Director-General Margaret Chan told visitors to the launch event in Geneva, ‘provide an opportunity to focus world attention on a health problem or issue that deserves special attention.’ Celebrations over recent years have focussed on antimicrobial resistance, climate change and road safety among other issues.

The first World Health Day took place in 1949, not on 7th April but instead on 22nd July, the date that 61 nations had signed the charter of the World Health Organization at New York in 1946. Documents in the WHO archives suggest that the goal of these early events was less to raise awareness of specific health issues, and more, in the words of the first Director-General Brock Chisholm, ‘to encourage public interest in and support of the aims of the Organization.’[1]

World Health Day Stamp PalestineIn 1949, individual governments were charged with organising events in their own countries and they took up the challenge with varying degrees of zeal. New Zealand led the way with a range of national and local events organized by branches of its United Nations Association. Ireland, Turkey, Austria, Italy and South Africa also responded, organising radio and cinema broadcasts, concerts, press releases and government-directed bible readings amongst other activities. The WHO headquarters in Geneva provided information about the organisation’s early success in combatting malaria in Italy and Greece, providing tuberculosis vaccines in India and responding to a typhus epidemic in Afghanistan. It also distributed a range of publicity materials and suggestions to national government, including a call to issue commemorative postage stamps (a perennial favourite of international organisations at the time).

Not everyone greeted the event with such enthusiasm however. Some countries felt they hadn’t had enough time to prepare suitable activities, whilst others sensibly pointed out that holding such a celebration when most children were on school holidays would severely blunt its impact. The WHO agreed, and the Second World Health Assembly decided that from 1950 World Health Day would be celebrated on April 7th, to commemorate the date in 1948 when the WHO constitution had officially come in to force.

The decision to link World Health Day to the foundation of the WHO highlights some interesting tensions in the early history of the organisation. In 1949 the US and Venezuela protested that they had been successfully celebrating Pan-American Health Day on 2nd December ever since the foundation of the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau (PASB) in 1902, both suggesting that World Health Day should share the same date. The relationship between the PASB and the WHO was one of the biggest areas of debate at the 1946 New York conference that drew up the WHO constitution. Whilst many delegates, particularly from Europe, emphasised the importance of having a single global health organisation, American states were keen to see the work of the PASB continue. The debate around the issue created significant divisions within the conference, including between Britain and the US. Eventually it was agreed that the PASB would continue as the WHO’s regional office for the American continent, although the exact timescale for its incorporation was left deliberately vague.

Implicit in the connection between World Health Day and the foundation of the WHO was the idea that action in the realm of global health somehow began when the organisation was founded, potentially underestimating the legacy of the various international health bodies such as the PASB which had preceded it. To mark this year’s World Health Day, the in-house magazine for the WHO and the UN in Geneva, UN Special, published an article on the birth of the WHO. It focusses on the meeting between three medical men, Szeming Sze, Geraldo de Paula Souza and Karl Evang, at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in 1945. It quotes Szeming Sze’s memoirs as saying the formation of the WHO “all came about quite accidently”, with the first mention of a new health organisation at the conference coming from Dr. Evang at a lunch meeting between the three men, and that it was their efforts to persuade other delegates that led to the decision to create a world health body.

Microfiche copy from the WHO archives of an early WHO document written on an old League of Nations template

Microfiche copy from the WHO archives of an early WHO document written on an old League of Nations template

Whilst this account is perfectly accurate, it somewhat downplays the extensive debates that had been taking place for at least the previous three years about the design and role of a future international health body, both within Allied governments and international organisations such as UNRRA. Central to these debates was the example of the League of Nations Health Organization, a body which had made significant contributions to the field of international health in the interwar period and which ultimately provided much of the template for the design of the WHO. It had continued to function in a much reduced form throughout the Second World War and its leading members were active participants in the debate about the shape of a post-war world health body. When the WHO Interim Commission began its work in 1947, it based itself in the same building as the League’s health section, employed many of the same personnel, and as we can see from the document above, even used the same stationery.

Indeed the same vector-borne diseases that the WHO was and is working to combat were also a key focus for the League, which established its own malaria commission in the 1920s. The fact that after nearly a century of international activity these diseases remain such a problem highlights the relevance of this year’s World Health Day campaign.

 

Further Reading:

Yves Beigbeder et al., The World Health Organization (Dordrecht: Nijhoff, 1998)

Iris Borowy, Coming to Terms with World Health: The League of Nations Health Organisation 1921-1946 (Berlin: Peter Lang, 2009)

Neville Goodman, International Organizations and Their Work (Edinburgh: Churchill Livingston, 1952)

Szeming Sze, The Origins of the World Health Organization: A Personal Memoir 1945-1948 (Boca Raton: L.I.S.Z. Publications, 1982)

Paul Weindling (ed.), International Health Organisations and Movements, 1918-1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)



[1] Documents relating to the history of World Health Day can be found in the WHO archives, Centralized Files First Generation, section 400-1-2. All unattributed material from this post comes from these files.

Agents of Internationalism: First Internationalism Workshop at Birkbeck College

19 to 20 June 2014

This workshop is the first in a series of events organised under the umbrella of The Reluctant Internationalists, a four-year project which examines the development and institutionalisation of international collaboration in twentieth-century Europe.

The workshop programme is now available at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/reluctantinternationalists/events/

The workshop is co-hosted by Contemporary European History and has three main aims:

  • First, it attempts to look beyond the self-declared liberal elites to identify other groups who built or dismantled international institutions. The workshop aims to shed light on who these (inter)national agents were, and why, when, and with what results they argued that some form of internationalism was practicable, necessary, or unavoidable.
  • Second, the workshop seeks to bring into focus alternative chronologies and periodizations of European history. We wish to revisit and revise the by now standard narrative of internationalism’s rise, decline and rise – from its rediscovery in the aftermath of the First World War, and a new enthusiasm for international institutions in the subsequent decade; to its spectacular failure in the era of protectionism, racial conflict and the destruction of the international architecture; to its triumph in the second post-war era; and, after the worst of the Cold War freeze, the flourishing of a new global era in the 1970s. We wish to re-examine variations of this narrative, and recover nuances and pinpoint different trajectories for different international projects.
  • Third, the workshop seeks to foreground Europe’s place in the history of internationalism. We are particularly interested in how international cooperation has evolved within European nation-states, and how concepts have differed within different parts of Europe and European peripheries.

Each of the seven panels will examine one group with international connections (relief workers, women, children, refugees, collaborators, soldiers, and ‘experts’) and identify continuities and disjunctures in the appeal and application of different internationalist programmes and agendas.

Attendance is free but places are limited. Please contact Ana Antic a.antic@bbk.ac.uk to reserve a space.

New Publication on Public Hygiene in Eastern Europe

Reposted from CEEHM Network:

Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen

We are happy to announce the publication of a special issue about Public Hygiene in Eastern Europe with Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, edited by Andreas Renner and Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen.

The articles, published in English and German language, deal with the history of epidemics, public health policies and institutions, the  popularisation of hygiene, and eugenics in the 19th and 20th century. The regional focus is on Poland, Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. The issue covers a wide range of topics, from anti-cholera campaigns in the Kazakh steppe in the 19th century by Anna Afanasyeva, through the relationship of science and policy in an effort against malaria in Soviet Azerbaijan by Matthias Braun, to German hygienic institutions and colonial agenda in the turn of the 20th century by Justyna A. Turkowska. Katrin Steffen explores  the role of experts in developing public health in Poland, Angelika Strobel analyses hygiene propaganda efforts and the evaluation of their effectiveness in Russian provinces, while Birte Kohtz focuses on eugenics in the Soviet Union.

For a complete table of contents and abstracts see  http://www.steiner-verlag.de/programm/zeitschriften/jahrbuecher-fuer-geschichte-osteuropas/jgo-6120134.html