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The Reluctant Internationalists

Looking back at The Reluctant Internationalists project, after four years of collaboration with exceptional researchers from across the world.

The Reluctant Internationalists project, which saw a team of researchers under the direction of Dr Jessica Reinisch exploring international organisations and movements in twentieth-century Europe, with a specific emphasis on public health and medicine, has drawn to a close. Over the course of the project, which ran from 2013 – 2017, their findings have shed new light on our understanding of twentieth-century internationalism. The project was funded by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award given to Jessica Reinisch of Birkbeck’s Department of History, Classics and Archaeology.

The project unearthed a number of key findings about the history of internationalism. These included:

  • the absence of a single model of international cooperation in place of a history of competing internationalisms
  • the significant (and previously overlooked) role played by Eastern and Southern Europe in internationalist projects
  • the role of the two world wars as catalysts for international cooperation
  • the central role played by technical experts in the development of internationalism

A key aim of the project was to foster collaborations between researchers from different institutions and disciplines with a shared interest in internationalism. The research group comprised four full-time researchers: Dr David Brydan (now at Kings College, University of London), Dr Johanna Conterio (now at Flinders University), Dr Dora Vargha and Dr Ana Antic (now both at University of Exeter). They worked alongside a further seven visiting researchers, two public engagement fellows and a public engagement and events co-ordinator. The group worked closely with school teachers and the Historical Association, and developed a series of teaching resources.

Altogether, members of the group organised twelve academic conferences and a series of conference panels, roundtable discussions and film screenings, and published their findings widely. The case studies developed were broad and wide ranging, covering topics as diverse as how Francoist Spain found a way into the World Health Organisation through its health experts and the work of the short-lived but highly influential United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

The project may have drawn to a close, but its impact lives on through a number of continuing initiatives. Two major academic journals, Social History of Medicine and Contemporary European History are being edited by members of the projects and the international network of scholars created by the project will live on in the Centre for the Study of Internationalism, a new research centre at Birkbeck.

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