Guest Post by visiting fellow Friederike Kind-Kovacs, Regensburg University

My incentive for proposing a joint network meeting between the research network “Health and Social Welfare in Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the Long 20th Century” coordinated at Regensburg University and Birkbeck’s “Reluctant Internationalist” project was to bring together two diverse groups of young and international scholars that are dealing in their research with questions of public health, social welfare, humanitarianism and internationalism. The researchers of both networks investigate practices and discourses of public health and social welfare, focusing on historical continuities, discontinuities and processes of transnational transfers. The geographical focus stretches from Eastern and Southeastern Europe to Western Europe and beyond, and embraces research on Bosnia-Herzegovina, Soviet Russia, Armenia, Spain, Germany, the GDR, Serbia, Belarus, Hungary, Poland, Kosovo, Russia to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Greece. While the main interest of the Reluctant Internationalists lies in public health in Europe as an arena of internationalism, the Health and Welfare network centers its attention on the local enactment of health and welfare in the – often overlooked region of – Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe from the end of the nineteenth century until recent times.

Yet, both networks have a lot in common. Both research networks do ‘extra’-ordinary research in the way that they test the boundaries of the widespread and conventional understanding of the history of medicine. While the history of public health and social welfare is often just perceived as a negligible and marginal part in modern history, we aim to challenge this perspective in three main ways. First, we propose to approach public health and social welfare as a centerpiece in historical processes of state-and nation building as well as an arena of international cooperation. When looking at global health crises such as Ebola, we see the dramatic impact on entire populations and the need for common global responses. Second, by geographically expanding our research also to the eastern and southeastern peripheries of Europe we hope to counterbalance the ongoing trend to focus exclusively on Western Europe when talking about Europe. A main aim is to understand the history of health and welfare in Eastern Europe as a core component of an integrative all-European history of public health and welfare. Third, we want to enrich the still widespread top-down approach to the history of internationalism, humanitarianism and health by means of agent-centered research. This approach moves away from the exclusive focus on the institutional history of health and welfare that focuses largely on medical elites and international organizations. Our projects equally value and closely examine local responses of health and welfare recipients, such as patients, the elderly, the disabled, children, the poor, veterans, minority groups or nurses. By pursuing research in these three ‘extra-ordinary’ ways, we are hoping to contribute to the field of an inclusive and social history of health and welfare. I believe that the encounter between both networks has created possibilities for future cooperation, as the members of both networks share not only common research interests but also an alternative understanding of the history of health and welfare.