What is it like, walking on the ground of a former “total institution” as Erving Goffman defined it in his book Asylum? For me, it was a strange mix of feelings: excitement connected with respect and somehow glumly feeling. But let us start from the beginning, and in this post series, I will invite you to join me visiting the former workhouse in Dresden while explaining its history, use, and its current state.
Rain weather as if heaven opened its floodgates. This is the day I started my journey to Brazil. My brother and I joined a family from Leipzig, who wanted to go there as emigrants.
Rudolf Seifert, Meine Reise nach Brasilien als Emigrant, 1909
With this opening line, Rudolf Seifert, a far relative of mine, started his travel journal in 1909. Just randomly, I discovered this small black book among the belongings of my grandfather, who passed away in 2012. Last year, I decided to have a closer look at it and started to transcribe his handwriting. The more I read about the journey of Rudolf, the more excited I got as a historian about all the small hints and descriptions of the political and social circumstances of his time. Therefore, in the following months, I want to follow his journey stage by stage while discussing and contextualizing his views and statements.
“Europe has walled-in itself.” With this simple line, the movie of Lars Krauma from 2010 sets a scene, where the audience is confronted with a Europe in chaos and swaying due to a conflict in the oil states and the persistent stream of refugees from the South. Sounds familiar? I think so. Even, if the movie might not be a masterpiece, the farsightedness is staggering. In this film, the European Union (EU) has built a wall throughout the Alps, blocking all mountain pass roads. In the light of Austrian’s recent announcement to deploy soldiers and fences at the Brenner Pass road, this science-fiction becomes reality. However, despite these measures, which violates the very idea of the EU, the majority of people remains silent, and a minority is on the streets, making the most vulnerable of this whole issue to a scapegoat for everything: the refugee itself.
As a late follow-up to my last post about a potential future for the history of medicine, I want to dedicate this article to the issues that arise when using medical categories and sources for historical investigations. Especially the previously mentioned terms of ‘trauma’ or ‘collective memory’ are highly disputed and remain blurry in their definitions – not least because they lack a definite character within medicine as well. Due to this deficit and the modernity of the terms, critics claim that the use of ‘trauma’ in history and commemoration practices, for example, would be similar to the utilisation of Darwinism to explain social and political phenomena in the 19th and 20th century. Therefore, in this post, I want to discuss the pitfalls as well as the potential use of medical terminology and understanding of the history of medicine’s future.
In the last couple of months, I had the pleasure to listen to a few highly interesting and engaging lectures and research seminars. Unsurprisingly, when considering my field of interest, most of them were located in the realm of medical and Cold War history. While attending these events, however, I was astonished how some established historians claimed for themselves to rewrite a topic’s historiography of international relevance post-1945, without acknowledging Eastern Bloc, or even Soviet Union sources, developments and historical research.
Investigating GDR history, one would encounter the claim of being ‘apolitical’ quite frequently – a claim, which describes the notion of being somehow removed from ‘big’ politics as well as the everyday political penetration of the private sphere by the socialist state. Historians in the past postulated that this notion was a typical reaction of the people towards the politicisation of their lives, establishing so-called ‘niches’ of retreat – some might claim it was the second ‘Biedermeier‘ era. Unsurprisingly, with this assumption the picture of the so-called ‘Gartensparten‘, or ‘Dachas‘ in Soviet Russia, was connected, which offered exactly the desired private realm, supposedly removed from politics.
Memory studies and the invention of new terminology, which supposedly captures different facets of the complex structure of remembrance, are booming since the last couple of decades. Not least, it is the connection with psychology and new insights in neuroscience, which enriches this field of historical research and provides fruitful approaches. However, many of its terms – like ‘cultural memory’, ‘collective memory’, etc. – remain blurry, and most authors in this field offer their interpretations and definitions, tailored towards their studies. Subsequently, one may ask if ‘medical memories and experiences’ is just another one of these terms, only useful for my dissertation.
However, the purpose of my Ph.D. thesis is to develop an analytical tool, which can be applied to different contexts and time periods. To achieve versatility in the concept, the creation of this tool occurs throughout the dissertation, within different settings in post-war East Germany (1945-1961): Continue reading “Medical Memories and Experiences – Part I of a Concept”