MA Option, Summer 2015

How did Cold War politics impact medical practice and public health initiatives, and how did concerns over health challenge Cold War concepts? In what ways did the division of the world along Cold War fault lines affect medical knowledge production and circulation and scientific interactions? The course examines these questions with a broad geographical focus by looking at issues in medicine and public health that became central to the Cold War era between 1945 and 1989.

The course follows Cold War concerns that entwine the scientific modernism of the golden age of therapeutics with the dystopic effects of World War II and the ever-present anxieties of the nuclear threat; the geopolitical reconfigurations of revolution and decolonization that created the “Third World” and the non-aligned movement; and the threat of global epidemics in a divided world; and the role of ideology and political values in framing medical treatment and healthcare systems.


  1. WWII and post-war attitudes of scientific progress: antibiotics and ethical considerations
  2. The Atomic Age: radiation treatment
  3. Public health as a Cold War weapon: eradication and disease control in the “Third World”
  4. Reaching over the Iron Curtain: cancer research and polio prevention
  5. International health agencies: passive sites of politics or active participants?
  6. Biomedical sciences in the Cold War
  7. Bodies and ideologies: disability in the Cold War
  8.  “Red” medicine and the “savage free enterprise”: competing healthcare systems and their meanings
  9. Love and marriage in the Cold War: the emotional health of the family and children
  10. Chernobyl and its legacy

Preliminary reading

  • Cueto, Marcos: Cold War, Deadly Fevers. Malaria Eradication in Mexico 1955-1975. Washington D.C.and and Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
  • Krementsov, Nikolai: The Cure. A Story of Cancer and Politics from the Annals of the Cold War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • Vicedo, Marga: The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming
  • Greenough, Paul. “’A wild and wondrous ride’: CDC field epidemiologists in the East Pakistan smallpox and cholera epidemics of 1958”. Ciencia & Saude [Brazil] 16(2): 73-80.
  • Jones, D.S., and R.L. Martensen. “Human Radiation Experiments and the Formation of Medical Physics at the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley, 1937-1962.” In Useful Bodies: Humans in the Service of Medical Science in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jordon Goodman, Anthony McElligott, and Lara Marks, 91-108. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
  • Radin, Joanna. “Serum as Sentinel. How Blood Became a Resource for Population Health.” Limn, issue no.3
  • Serlin, David: The Other Arms Race. In: Replaceable You. Engineering the Body in Postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Benison, Saul. “International Medical Cooperation: Dr. Albert Sabin, Live Poliovirus Vaccine and the Soviets.” Bulletin of the history of medicine 56, no. Winter (1982): 460-83.
  • Chorev, Nitsan. The World Health Organization between North and South.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012.
  • Petryna, Adriana. Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
  • Dowbiggin, Ian. “Medical Mission to Moscow: Women’s Work, Day Care, and Early Cold War Politics in Twentieth-Century America.” Journal of Policy History, Volume 23, Number 2, 2011, pp. 177-203

Selected primary sources

  • Polanyi, Michael. “The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory.” Minerva 1:54-74, 1962
  • Weinerman, Richard E., and Shirley B. Weinerman. Social Medicine in Eastern Europe. The Organization of Health Services and the Education of Medical Personnel in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969.
  • Basil O’Connor, “The Setting for Scientific Research in the Last Half of the Twentieth Century,” in Fifth International Poliomyelitis Conference, ed. International Poliomyelitis Congress (Copenhagen, Denmark1960).
  • “U. N. MEDICAL AID LINKED TO PEACE; Doctors’ Efforts Can Reach Where Diplomats’ Cannot, Surgeons’ College Hears”, New York Times, September 16, 1955
  • Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts. Chernobyl Forum, 2003-2005, pp. 1-32.