Conference in connection with the research project “The Robert Koch Institute in National Socialist Germany”
Organizers: Institute for the History of Medicine in Berlin (in cooperation with the Institute for the History of Medicine in Heidelberg) Volker Hess, Annette Hinz-Wessels, Marion Hulverscheidt, Anja Laukötter
Place and Time: Berlin, 18. — 19. January 2008 Conference Language: German and English
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) was an important institution in the national socialist health system. It was established as the Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases and incorporated into the Imperial Health Office in 1935, before being upgraded to an imperial institution in 1942. On the one hand, the RKI was a respected institute alongside the Imperial Health Office and other scientific institutions, that conducted research and provided expert advice in the service of political interests. On the other hand, it was a service provider in the production, distribution, standardization, and marketing of vaccines — services which because of the war were in high demand and involved cooperation with industry and the military.
Against this backdrop, the conference will take as its point of departure the RKI and it’s main fields of research and proceed to place them in a comparative, international perspective. The goal is to consider not just national, but also international and transnational developments and changes in institutions and research priorities in order to identify and reassess the potentially unique status of the RKI. Preference will be given to papers that examine relations with the RKI, especially the cooperative networks of individual researchers and institutions (for example the Institute Pasteur in Paris).
Contributions should focus on the period from ca. 1930 to 1950 so that lines of continuity and discontinuity can be better identified. For purposes of comparison, papers on other countries — be they dictatorships or democracies — are welcome. In this way, the epistemological effects of political factors can be examined. Countries to be compared might include: the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Poland, Russia, Italy, Spain, and the Scandinavian countries. Within this framework, papers should focus on two main issues: fields of research and institutions.
Core questions could be: On fields of research: Based on the project’s main focus, a comparative perspective on yellow fever, blood-type, and smallpox research would be helpful. But other topics could include tuberculosis, diphtheria, tropical medicine, or viral and rabies research. Contributions should examine the development of these specific research fields in their various national contexts and transnational and international affiliations.
Starting points for discussion might include such questions as: 1. How were the respective national fields organized? Who were the dominant actors? Were these institutions affiliated with other organizations and if so, in what way? What sort of competitive relationships existed between the actors who dominated scientific discourse. 2. How were the respective scientific fields and research priorities defined? Were they bound by disciplinary constraints or shaped by interdisciplinary influences? In what way did foreign scientific debates play a role? How and in what form was knowledge transferred, including to the RKI. 3. What significance did the specific research fields have in relation to other neighbouring areas of research? What approaches were discussed? 4. In what way did the respective political system structure scientific knowledge or accelerate, hamper, or change certain avenues of research? Was the research shaped by certain systemic factors? Did differences exist in the relationship between basic and applied research?
On Institutions: 1. Did research institutes like the RKI exist other countries? How were they organized and equipped? Was there a functional distinction made between research and service-oriented activities? Was there any exchange of information with the RKI? 2. How can such institutions be situated in their respective national networks of bio-political institutions? In what competitive environments did they exist? 3. What position did scientists occupy in relation to their institution? What possibilities did they have to shape their respective fields of work? Is it possible to identify the influence of institutions on scientists’ research? 4. Can one, over a course of time, identify a reorientation of institutions as far as their responsibilities and goals are concerned? How did changing national and international political situations influence the respective institutions?
Please submit suggestions for papers, including an abstract of not more that 400 words to: [email protected]. The deadline for submission is 31 July 2007.
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