Science and medicine in the multinational empires of Central and Eastern Europe

One-day workshop organized by Tatjana Buklijas and Emese Lafferton, will take place at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, on 23 June 2006.


Historians examining the interaction between Western science and imperialism have shown how Western powers employed science and medicine to reinforce their rule and propagate their culture in the countries they colonized. They have, furthermore, highlighted how the colonial economic and social organization affected the health of populations and how, simultaneously, Western medicine itself was profoundly reshaped by encounters with new cultures, diseases and medical practices. These studies have opened important questions that underpin the current debates about science and medicine in the post-colonial and post-Cold war world. Yet they are exclusively based on Western powers with non-European colonies, in particular Britain, and consequently fail to offer explanatory frameworks for the role of science and medicine in the expansion and maintenance of two geographically contiguous empires of Central and Eastern Europe: the Habsburg Empire and Russia. Little historical attention has been given to the ways in which the particular forms of governmentality as well as the multiethnic and multicultural environments of these empires shaped medical and scientific knowledge and practices.

This workshop aims to open new perspectives on the relationship between medicine, science and imperialism by studying it in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian context in the long nineteenth century. The papers, ranging in topics from Russian astronomy to Austrian military psychiatry, will study how science and medicine were deployed in nation-building strategies and ‘internal colonization’ of geographic regions and ethnicities, while, at the same time, they were appropriated for political goals by non-dominant social and ethnic groups, e.g. new national movements. The workshop will furthermore examine the importance of language as a tool of cultural domination within, and beyond, science and medicine. More generally, its aim is to contribute to history of science, medicine and imperialism, as well as to the social and cultural history of these regions.

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