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Of Medicine and Men

Biographies and Ideas in European Social Medicine between the World Wars

Iris Borowy and Anne Hardy

Social medicine was one of the key health paradigms of the early twentieth century. It perceived public health as a function of social conditions and aimed at improving it through comprehensive, horizontal strategies. Yet, it was no homogeneous or static phenomenon. Depending on time, place and circumstances, it took different, sometimes ideologically contradictory forms. This volume portrays leading medical experts from seven European countries. Their juxtaposition reveals a network of international interaction and shows how different people coped with the crises of the time in different ways, sometimes as part of the scientific mainstream, sometimes as opposition under attack, sometimes in exile. Their biographies reflect an ambivalent interplay of biomedicine, politics and social theory.

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Of Medicine and Men - lntroduction (Iris Borowy)

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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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