Biographies and Ideas in European Social Medicine between the World Wars
Of Medicine and Men - lntroduction (Iris Borowy)
7 Of Medicine and Men - lntroduction Iris Borowy Biography is a popular genre. We like stories about people, whose courses through life we can follow and understand. In reassuring ways the Jives of even the most extraordinary persons, the heroes, the saviours and the monsters, unfold in categories we can relate to: hopes and ambitions, successes and failures, friendship, trust, deceit, love and hate. Biographies on Hitler, Stalin or the Soong siblings sell very well and are widely read. They have a prominent place in historiography, and justifiably so. Since by history we axiomatically assume the history of humans at its simplest level, all history is biography: an account of how people have experienced their environments, how they have reacted to them, what decisions they have taken and how these decisions have influenced the people and the world around them. Even mass phenomena consist of the ag gregate individual fates: famine means many people suffering hunger, demo graphic growth means many people having three and more surviving children and living long lives, industrial revolution means many people making inven tions, working in factories and living in an increasingly urban and technological environment. While we need statistics to grasp the quantitative component of reality, we need an understanding of individual fates to make sense of the num bers. However, the dangers of biographies are equally obvious and weil known: an overgeneralization of individual experiences i .e . accepting a few cases with their idiosyncratic aspects as representative of the !arge picture,...
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