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Dr Sarah Marks

  • Overview



    Sarah Marks researches the history of science, medicine and technology - 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, initially as a Wellcome-funded postdoctoral researcher, then as a Lecturer in Modern History and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow from 2019. She is the founding Director of the Birkbeck Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Mental Health.

    Sarah is an Editor for the interdisciplinary journal History of the Human Sciences and an advisory board member for the Czech Journal of Contemporary History/Časopis Soudobé dějiny. Her research has been taken up by the WHO Regional Office in Europe, BBC Radio, The Wellcome Collection, and the British Psychological Society


    Current Projects:

    Wellcome Collaborative Award 'Connecting Three Worlds: Socialism, Medicine and Global Health after World War II' 2021-2025

    This five-year project, co-run with Dr Dora Vargha (University of Exeter) and Prof Edna Suarez-Diaz (UNAM, Mexico), reconsiders the history of global health during the Cold War in a way which acknowledges and critically examines the contributions of the socialist world and socialist actors. It is a collaborative group of ten researchers and six collaborators look across Eastern Europe and the Soviet sphere, East Asia, Africa and Latin America, exploring interconnections through the lenses of mental health, infectious disease control and epidemiology, and technical assistance. Sarah's team at Birkbeck focus on the African continent, and particularly its links to socialist Europe. Postdoctoral historian Dr David Bannister traces the connections between the African National Congress and the Soviet world and how this shaped ANC health policy during and after apartheid, and anthropologist Dr Sarah Howard examines Derg-era healthcare in Ethiopia and its legacies for the present. 

    UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship 'CBT in Britain: The State, Welfare and the Individual since 1948' 2019-2023

    This project 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. Professional politics sometimes obscure the experiences of patients and clients themselves, highlighting the need for a non-partisan history of these debates. 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. Crucially, the experiences of service users need to be written into the story, through extensive oral history interviews. As part of this project, Sarah 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.

    Global Challenges Research Fund Grant 'Oral Histories of Community Mental Health in Ghana' 2019-2021

    This collaboration with Dr Ursula Read (King's College London), Dr Collins Ahorlu (Noguchi Memorial Institute, University of Ghana) and Dr Lily Kpobi (Regional Institute of Population Studies, University of Ghana) uses individual oral history interviews and witness seminars, contextualised with archival research, to understand the development of community mental health in Ghana from independence to the present day, with testimonies gathered from mental health nurses, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, policy-makers and representatives of mental health charities and NGOs. Publications and a policy briefing will be forthcoming in 2022.

    Medicine and Mental Health in Central and Eastern Europe

    Sarah has carried out extensive research on Central and Eastern Europe and the Soviet sphere, exploring the politics of medicine, psychology, mental health and ethnicity. Drawing on sources in Czech, Slovak, German and Russian, she has 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 - and for dissenting from it. 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, an edited volume (with Mat Savelli, 2015) Psychiatry in Communist Europe, a number of journal articles published and forthcoming, and her contribution to the WHO's 2018 report on 'Culture and Reform of Mental Health Care in Central and Eastern Europe'. This work has been funded over a number of years through an AHRC doctoral award, an IHR Scouloudi Fellowship, a Junior Research Fellowship at the University of Cambridge, a Wellcome postdoctoral award through the Birkbeck Hidden Persuaders project, and a DAAD research grant.


    • PhD History of Medicine, UCL, 2015
    • MA History of Medicine, UCL, 2009
    • MRes East European Studies, UCL, 2008
    • BA History, UCL, 2006

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Chair of Research Ethics Committee, School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy
    • Member of College Research Ethics Committee
    • Co-Director, MA Medical Humanities, 2021-22
    • History lead for UBEL ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership, 2021-22

    Visiting posts

    • Affiliated Scholar, University of Cambridge Department of History & Philosophy of Science,
    • Honorary Research Associate, UCL School of European Languages, Cultures & Societies,

    Professional activities

    External reviewer for the European Research Council, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic Panel for History and Archaeology; the Austrian Science Fund (FWF); and the Polish National Science Centre (NCN).

    Member of Expert Review Group for Wellcome Trust Humanities and Social Sciences Early Career Schemes (2021)

    Member of Peer Review College for UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship scheme

    Co-Convenor Transcultural Histories of Psychotherapy Network

    Steering Group Member, Complex and Challenging Research Network

    Member of the MPIWG/Princeton 'Validation and Regulation in the Sciences of Health' Network

    Professional memberships

    Honours and awards

    • Public Engagement Award for Collaboration 2019 (with Daniel Pick, the Hidden Persuaders Project and the Derek Jarman Lab), Birkbeck, University of London,
    • Women's Forum Article Prize 2017, British Association of Slavonic & East European Studies,
  • Research


    Research interests

    • History of Science and Medicine
    • Interdisciplinary Mental Health Studies
    • Science and Technology Studies
    • Modern European History
    • Modern African History
    • Modern Intellectual History
    • Phenomenology

    Research overview

    Research grants: 

    UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship 'CBT in Britain: Welfare, the Individual and the State since 1948'

    Wellcome Collaborative Award (with Dora Vargha, Exeter and Edna Suarez Diaz, UNAM Mexico) 'Connecting Three Worlds: Socialism, Medicine and Global Health after World War II'

    Global Challenges Research Fund Grant 'Oral Histories of Community Mental Health in Ghana'


    Journal articles

    (with Daniel Pick & Mary-Clare Hallsworth) 'Hidden Persuaders on Film: Exploring Young People's Lived Experience through Visual Essays', Research for All, 5:2 (2021) 

    Suggestion, Persuasion and Work: Psychotherapy in Communist Europe’, European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 20:1 (2018) 

    'Psychotherapy in Europe', History of the Human Sciences, 31:4 (2018) 

    The Romani Minority, Coercive Sterilizations, and Languages of Denial in the Czech Lands’, History Workshop Journal, 84:1 (2017), pp. 128-148  

    Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective’, History of the Human Sciences, vol. 30:2 (2017), pp. 3-16 

    From Experimental Psychosis to Resolving Traumatic Pasts: Psychedelic Research in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1954-1974Cahiers du monde russe, 56 (2015), pp. 53-75 



    Mat Savelli and Sarah Marks (eds) Psychiatry in Communist Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2015).


    Guest-Edited Journal Special Issues

    Psychotherapy in Europe’, Special issue of History of the Human Sciences, vol. 31:4 (2018) 

    Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective’, Special issue of History of the Human Sciences, vol. 30:2 (2017) 


    Book Chapters

    ‘A History of the Talking Cure’ in David Jones (ed.) Understanding Mental Health and Counselling. (OUP, 2020).

    (co-authored with Mat Savelli and Melissa Ricci) ‘The Long (or Short) History of Mental Health.’ in Mat Savelli, James Gillett and Gavin J. Andrews (eds) An Introduction to Mental Health and Illness. (OUP, 2020). 

    ‘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) Researching and Teaching Twentieth Century History. (The Historical Association, 2020)

    (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)


    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

    (with Charlie Williams and Daniel Pick) ‘The Hidden Persuaders’ 6-part digital story series commissioned for the Wellcome Collection, 2018 

    (with Daniel Pick) ‘Radicalization: Lessons on Mind Control from the 1950s’ The World Today (magazine of Chatham House: The Royal Institute of International Affairs), February 2017


    Book Reviews

    Joel Dimsdale, Dark Persuasion: A History of Brainwashing from Pavlov to Social Media. (Yale University Press, 2021), Science, 373:6556 (2021)

    Leslie Topp, Freedom and the Cage: Modern Architecture and Psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914. (Penn State University Press, 2017), Social History of Medicine, 32:2 (2019)

    Ana Antic, Therapeutic Fascism: Experiencing the Violence of the Nazi New Order in Yugoslavia. (Oxford University Press, 2017), Social History of Medicine, 31:3 (2018)

    Mitchell G. Ash and Jan Surman (eds), The Nationalization of Scientific Knowledge in the Habsburg Empire, 1848-1918. (Palgrave, 2012), Central Europe, 14 (2016)

    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) 

    Selected Blog Posts

    Psychotherapy Across the Atlantic’, History of the Human Sciences Blog, 21st December 2018 

    Brainwashing in Communist Czechoslovakia – And After’, Hidden Persuaders Blog, 7th September 2017 

    On the Unexamined Presence of Psychotherapeutics: An Interview with Sarah Marks’, History of the Human Sciences Blog, 4th May 2017 



    Research Centres and Institutes

    Research clusters and groups

    • Mind and Body
    • Public History
    • Global History and Internationalism

    Research projects

    Connecting three worlds: socialism, medicine and global health after WWII.

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    Current PhD Students

    Sasha Bergstrom-Katz ‘On the Subject of Tests: The History of Psychometric Testing in the United States’ (Department of Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck, co-supervised with Dr Amber Jacobs)

    Hannah Blythe 'The use of interpersonal relationships to treat and understand madness in Britain’s first community-based mental health charities,1879-1939' (Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, co-supervised with Prof Peter Mandler)

    Pedro Ferreira 'Attachment Theory and its reception in the disciplines of mental health since 1939' (Department of History, Classics & Archaeology, Birkbeck, co-supervised with Dr Peter Fifield)

    Mary Heffernan 'Psychoanalysis and Ireland, 1911-1998' (Department of History, Classics & Archaeology, Birkbeck, co-supervised with Dr Sean Brady)

    Rebecca Hudson 'Pathology and penal risk prediction: investigating the construction of personality disorder and decisions on captivity in British prisons' (Department of Criminology, Birkbeck, co-supervised with Dr Rachael Dobson)

    Janina Klement 'Mapping Critical Psychiatry: A Transnational Study of Critical Psychiatry’s Reception in Western Europe and the US since 1965' (UCL School of European Languages, Cultures & Societies, co-supervised with Prof Sonu Shamdasani)

    Kiara Wickremasinghe, 'Innovation in Psychiatric Crisis Care: an Investigation into Peer-Supported Open Dialogue in Inner London' (Bloomsbury Doctoral Partnership, SOAS Department of Anthropology & Sociology, co-supervised by Prof David Mosse)



    Teaching modules

    • Critical Entanglements in the Medical Humanities (SSHC483S7)
    • Methods: Medicine, Culture, Text (SSHC484S7)
    • Crossing Borders: Studying in SSHP (SSSS001S3)
  • Business and community

    Business and community

    I have media training.


    I am happy to receive enquiries from the media on the following topics:

    • History of mental health, psychiatry and psychotherapy
    • Science and Medicine in the Cold War


      From 2017-19 Sarah Marks collaborated 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 led to an exhibition and a series of filmmaking workshops and screenings on ideas about brainwashing and hidden persuasion in history, science and culture.