Towards a ‘Medicalised’ History of Medicine?

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.

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Medical Memories and Experiences – Part I of a Concept

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