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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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Actions not Words. Thorvald Madsen, Denmark, and International Health. 1902-1939 (Anne Hardy)


1 27 Actions not Words. Thorvald Madsen, Denmark, and International Health. 1902-1 939. Anne Hard/ The Danish physician Thorvald Madsen was bom into a well-to-do Copenhagen family in 1 870. Qualifying in medicine in 1 894, Madsen is best known to pos­ terity as the Director of the Danish State Serum Institute (DSSI) from 1 907 to 1 940, and as President of the League of Nations Health Committee from 1 92 1 to 1 937 (and Honorary president 1 937-40). Both at the DSSI and at the LNHO, Madsen operated at the core of international humanitarian medical activity in the first forty years of the twentieth century. As a biographical subject, Madsen looks promising, since he left a voluminous archive, and he also features in LNHO related diaries, letters and other documents. Piecing together his official life and concems from these records is not difficult, but penetrating the personal motives, principles and beliefs which determined his activities is more so. There is no explicit evidence of his political, religious and philosophical ideas or how these influenced his activities. He was not given to ruminations in print or at in­ terview; his memoirs and reminiscences are largely factual and anecdotal . His parents were both said to have come of 'puritanical ' Protestant stock, but there is no evidence of puritanism in Madsen' s own life. On the contrary. He was some­ thing of a social snob. He enjoyed hob-nobbing with Royalty and staying in royal palaces ( especially that of Jaegerspris,...

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