Center for the History of Global Development

Call for Papers

Doing Health in Europe

The series of Contemporary European History, published by de Gruyter, Berlin, asks about the agency that has formed Europe during the last century ( Its focus is on the people who have shaped the continent through their work, their activism or simply through the ways they have organized their lives and on the processes these activities have spawned.
Within the series, the volume Doing Health in Europe intends to explore who created health in Europe during the last century. The phrase has a strange ring to it. We are not used to thinking of health as something created, like a piece of craftsmanship, but if we accept that a lot of what determines health is, indeed, human-made, the question makes eminent sense.

There is no doubt that health care workers, i.e. doctors, nurses, pharmacists and all other people working in the health sector, have had some impact on people’s health. By providing diagnoses and administering medicine and treatment to people who feel ill, their actions have had a direct bearing on the bodies and minds of people seeking their services. But, clearly, they are far from the only ones.

Health is a complex phenomenon, notoriously difficult to define on either an individual or collective level. It consists both of tangible and clearly measurable items, such as fevers, injuries, births and deaths, and of social constructions, notably conventions about which manifestations of body and mind are considered “healthy” or “normal”. Factors determining different levels of health, however defined, are numerous and varied. They include biomedical aspects such as the presence or absence of pathogens, but also the social determinants of health: social, economic and environmental factors such as gender relations, income distributions and food regulations. The WHO estimates that the social determinants of health account for between 30-55% of health outcomes ( Other experts believe their impact may decide between 80% and 90% ( Inasmuch as the vast majority of these socio-economic and environmental conditions have been the result of human actions, the people who were behind those actions have created health. In the sense that the understanding of health depends on their social construction, the people who were formative in such constructions have also created health. They include parents, teachers, researchers, administrators, business people, artists, politicians and possibly many more, working on different scales and with different forms of influence. Together with the healthcare workers, they have collectively formed the good, bad and mixed health outcomes experienced by Europeans throughout the twentieth century until today.

This volume seeks to unravel the agency of those individuals and groups who have created health in Europe, regardless of whether they were interested in or even aware of their impact. The focus is, therefore, on decisions and actions and their outcomes, more than on intentions. Thereby, we hope to reveal the frequently overlooked unintended but important consequences of human agency, as well as the intertwined quality of health of people living in complex societies and during a period of rapid, often tumultuous development. Such effects can be positive or negative or complicated. For instance, policy makers that waged brutal and destructive wars often also planned and implemented far-reaching welfare infrastructures, as efforts to maintain the health of soldiers required healthy populations at large. Similarly, effects may change over time. Economic growth has harmed population health in the short term but benefitted it in the long term (and may have negative effects again in the very long term in the future), which means that all those groups carrying economic growth had these ambivalent effects on population health. A poignant but not singular example may be the people in the coal industry, whose work helped to improve housing and living standards for some generations of people but contributed to climate change, which will affect the health of following generations.

We are inviting contributions that explore these questions by addressing specific groups of people and the impact of their various decisions and activities on health in Europe, or on determinants that have shaped health and the various groups of people who have driven those determinants. We realize that Europe is difficult to define, and that historiography is uneven with regard to cases across the continent. But we try to be as pan-European as possible and invite chapters that consider more than one place in Europe and connect their local findings to the continent as a whole. It is expected that all texts will in some way address the current knowledge of the mechanisms through which actors impact population health and its determinants, and discuss how these findings add to our understanding to the making of Europe when applied to circumstances in different parts of the continent since 1900.
In particular, we invite contributions on the following topics, though others are welcome as well:

Part I. Actors. Chapters in this section focus on individuals and groups that intentionally or unintentionally shaped population health through their actions. This may include, among others, politicians and reformers, insurance companies, industries, energy plants, urban planners, nutritionists, citizens as consumers, healthcare workers, researchers, mothers and other family members, anti-science activists, psychologists, and journalists.

Part II. Determinants. Chapters in this section focus on determinants of health (for better or for worse), which various actors have generated, for instance:
- Education: social reformers, nation builders, teachers
- Sanitation, urban and rural: politicians, engineers, physicians, social reformers
- Warfare and conflict: soldiers, politicians, nationalists
- Income, economic growth, inequalities, social status: workers, entrepreneurs, people in power
- Pollution, environmental poisoning, toxic waste: industrialists, public health experts, workers
- Housing, urbanization, rural living: citizens, peasants, urban planners, local and central politicians
- Food (safety, security, quality): regulators, consumers, transport facilitators
- Transportation: nation builders, politicians, workers, consumers
- (Recreational) drugs (cigarettes, alcohol, refined drugs): consumers, regulators, activists
- Tourism
- Trade
- Energy
- Agriculture
- …
Please, send abstracts and brief cv’s (one page) to Iris Borowy; Frank Huisman, and Kalle Kappner Deadline:  30 June 2023. Authors will be informed about the decision by 1 August 2023.
First drafts of texts of approximately 8,000 to 10,000 words will be expected by 31 March, 2024.

Integrating Histories of Development: the Good, the Bad, and the Joined

There are two principal master narratives about modern global development. One is a positive story of significantly improved quality of life for people around the world. This perspective is especially taken by scholars studying health. Over the last 200 years, people around the world have grown taller and lived longer, the result mainly of better nutrition, better housing, better clothing, higher incomes, more tax revenues and better healthcare policies.  Despite an eight-fold increase of the global population since 1800, the percentage of malnourished has steadily decreased, and the rate of people dying of famine has dropped to a tiny fraction of those at any time during the last two centuries. Angus Maddison has documented the spectacular (albeit unequal) growth in global wealth, while Robert Fogel and Dora Costa have demonstrated the intertwined character of the  changes in human bodies and inventions: better nutrition and living standards have enabled people to work with more strength and better cognitive abilities for longer hours, resulting in further improvements in nutrition and living conditions in a “techno-physio evolution” of continuous improvements. Nobel Prize laureate Angus Deaton has framed such improvements in health and living standards as “escapes” from earlier fates of hunger and premature death. Steven Pinker has argued that modern societies have kept becoming more peaceful, with violence increasingly exceptional and considered outside of accepted social norms, and  the late public health specialist Hans Rosling, insisted on the overall positive tendencies of world development in a book aptly entitled Factfulness: Ten Reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think (2018).

This narrative competes with a negative view of increasing environmental degradation and social injustice. The most extreme case is probably climate change, resulting from approximately two centuries of industrialization, which has been framed as a small minority of people and nations having splashed out on fossil fuels to the detriment of the majority of people, who are suffering the consequences in the form of droughts, floods, extreme weather conditions and a plethora of secondary social and political consequences. In Merchants of Doubt (2010), Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have analyzed various deceptions campaigns by industry, adding a brief fictitious history of the future on the consequences of climate change, appropriately called The Collapse of Western Civilization (2014). And climate change is only one of the disasters which are unfolding. For decades, analysts have warned of the potentially catastrophic consequences of going beyond “limits to growth” (Meadows et al., 1972, 1992, 2004) or beyond planetary boundaries (Rockström, 2009). While these publications are not historical per se, they include references to past developments as the origins of alarming current and future threats. Some environmental historians also paint somber pictures, based on studies of the global history of pollution (Jarrige/LeRoux, 2020; Liboiron et al. 2018), or toxic waste disposal (Hamblin, 2009; Newman, 2016). Often, these accounts highlight local and global power asymmetries that cause environmental injustice (Armiero, 2021; Malm, 2016) or “slow violence“ (Nixon, 2011). Similarly, historians of development such as Mike Davis (2001) or Gilbert Rist (2001) portray development as an increasing concentration of wealth and power among global elite groups, gained through a combination of (post-)colonial oppression and capitalism.

Both narratives are well established, using specific sets of questions, sources, methods and frames to provide overriding perspectives on global history. Often, they are cultivated in separation with only limited connection to the other. However, in spite of seemingly being contradictory, these narratives can also be regarded as profoundly connected, whereby seeing one narrative in isolation, without integrating the other, is one-sided to the point of missing the real picture.
Recently, there have been fascinating studies of holistic histories in which authors have broken down barriers of conventional historiography. They tend to focus on integrating the histories of the human-made, “artificial”, and the biological, “natural” worlds, revealing unexpected parallels as well as intertwined connections. Examples include Vaclav Smil’s Growth (2019) and his analysis of phenomena ranging from geological to political structures, as well as Dipesh Chakrabarty’s The Climate of History (2021), a “conjoined history” of the biosphere and technosphere leading to global climate change.

This workshop wants to follow up on such approaches, exploring ways in which the two narratives outlined above can be integrated into one. The goal is that the positive and negative views on global development are not portrayed as parallel, contradictory histories but one single history whose one strand necessarily includes the other. For instance, one may argue that living standards and life expectancies have improved precisely because of developments that also entailed increasing production, pollution and toxic waste. This workshop will explore how such an approach can break up simplistic linearities and open new perspectives on the past and its meaning for the future.
Scholars are invited to submit proposals for papers that explore some angle on a holistic history in which the “good” and the “bad” history are understood to be components of one single history, whose understanding of benefit and damage are blurred and may shift. They can derive from social, political, environmental, technological or any other form of history. We particularly welcome the following submissions:

- Case studies of joined developments, whereby a distinct occurrence has positive and negative, mutually essential repercussions;
- Studies on developments that seem clearly positive or negative at one place and one point in time but gain different meanings in later times and/or distant places;
- Theoretical considerations of the concept of integrated histories and its possible meaning for the writing of “normal” history.

Accepted papers will be discussed at a workshop hosted by the Center for the History of Global Development, College of Liberal Arts, Shanghai University. Funding for this workshop is being sought. As far as possible, the workshop will be held as an on-site meeting, though options are reserved for a hybrid or zoom format. Selected contributions will be published in the Yearbook for the Global History of Development.

The deadline for the abstracts is 30 March 2023. Decisions will be communicated by 15 April.

Dates for the workshop: 4 – 6 October, 2023

Send an abstract of about 350 words as well as a brief cv of one or two pages in one single file, to:

Please, indicate below the abstract whether you would participate 1. online; 2. On site if there is travel funding, 3. On site.