Journal of Contemporary History

Published by SAGE Publications
Print ISSN: 0022-0094
Desperate illnesses beget secret remedies. Consumption, so long as it defied orthodox ministrations, proved a money pot for quacks. Quacks existed symbiotically with their qualified brethren, nether world and upper world, each self-defined against the other in a market whose rules were unclear. Qualified practitioners pretended to competence across the total field of perceived physical and mental affliction, at all stages of the life cycle. 1 Irregulars usually confined their pretensions to curing illnesses of adults that were chronic, life-threatening, stigmatizing and popularly assumed to be beyond the powers of orthodox therapies. Adults had the means to pay for release from venereal diseases, frigidity and impotence, cancers, consumption, and from disfiguring, taints, scrofula, skin eruptions, varicose veins, deafness and epilepsy. Currently in the west they sell cures for acne, baldness, cancer, obesity
Few issues in medicine and society today are more controversial than euthanasia, the term derived from the Greek word for ‘easy death’ and often called ‘mercy-killing’. Current debates raise questions about the past and what euthanasia has meant to earlier generations. The most infamous example of a state euthanasia programme occurred between 1939 and 1945 in nazi Germany when thousands of handicapped men, women and children were murdered. But little is known about the history of Anglo-American euthanasia. This article, based on an examination of documents from a variety of archival collections in England and the USA, explores the early history of the unsuccessful movement to legalize euthanasia in Great Britain, as embodied in the Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society (VELS). By focusing on the career of C. Killick Millard (1870–1952), the founder of the VELS, this article argues that although the VELS tried to convince the public that it sought the legalization of only mercy-killing with consent, there was a tendency within the VELS to obscure the distinctions between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. There is even some evidence of VELS sympathy for nazi euthanasia. At the same time, VELS members also tended to be involved in the eugenics, birth control and public health movements or belong to liberal religious groups like the Unitarians, or they were physicians radicalized by the experience of watching patients die in protracted agony. It is this complex constellation of motives — some murky and some indisputably humane — that warrants attention nowadays, at a time when courts and legislatures are being asked to rule on such literally life and death issues.
Although more than a half a century has passed since Stalin abandoned NEP and laid the foundation of what many thought would be a socialist economic order, assessments of the size and character of Soviet achievements during the 1930s remain intensely controversial. This essay attempts to illuminate the nature of these divergent appraisals by examining their analytic underpinnings, and by evaluating them in terms of the relationship between excess deaths and the achieved levels of economic development indicated by Soviet statistics. It will be argued that the extraordinary number of excess deaths observed during the 1930s diminishes the credibility of economic development estimates based on official economic statistics and calls into question the efficacy of the Stalinist development model. The historical record shows that in the autumn of 1929 Stalin
Too often histories of the concentration camps tend to be ignorant of the wider political context of nazi repression and control. This article tries to overcome this problem. Combining legal, social and political history, it contributes to a more thorough understanding of the changing relationship between the camps as places of extra-legal terror and the judiciary, between nazi terror and the law. It argues that the conflict between the judiciary and the SS was not a conflict between "good" and "evil," as existing accounts claim. Rather, it was a power struggle for jurisdiction over the camps. Concentration camp authorities covered up the murders of prisoners as suicides to prevent judicial investigations. This article also looks at actual suicides in the pre-war camps, to highlight individual inmates' reactions to life within the camps. The article concludes that the history of the concentration camps needs to be firmly integrated into the history of nazi terror and the Third Reich.
This article investigates music in the concentration camps before the second world war. For the camp authorities, ordering prisoners to sing songs or play in orchestras was an instrument of domination. But for the prisoners, music could also be an expression of solidarity and survival: inmates could retain a degree of their own agency in the pre-war camps, despite the often unbearable living conditions and harsh treatment by guards. The present article emphasizes this ambiguity of music in the early camps. It illustrates the emergence of musical traditions in the pre-war camps which came to have a significant impact on everyday life in the camps. It helps to overcome the view that concentration camp prisoners were simply passive victims.
This article uses prostitutes as a case study in order to investigate the role of the early concentration camps as centres of detention for social deviants. In contrasting the intensification of repressive policies towards prostitutes against narratives which demonstrate the unexpectedly lax treatment of these women, it explores what the reasons behind these contradictions might have been, and what this demonstrates about the development of these institutions. It asks the following questions. How and why were prostitutes interned? Which bureaucrats were responsible for incarcerating these women and what did they view the role of the camp to be? Were such policies centrally directed or the product of local decision-making? Through asking these questions, the article explores to what extent these camps were unique as mechanisms for the repression and marginalization of prostitutes.
Understandably, research has focused overwhelmingly on Jews in the camps of the Holocaust. But the nazis had been detaining Jews in concentration camps ever since 1933, at times in large numbers. Who were these prisoners? This article analyzes nazi policies that brought Jews into the concentration camps. It ventures into the inner structure and dynamics of one of the most heterogeneous groups of concentration camp inmates. By contrasting the perpetrators' objectives with the victims' experiences, this article will illuminate the role of the concentration camp as the ultimate means of pressure in the fatal process of turning a minority group into an outsider group: that is, the act of defining and marking the enemy which was the critical stage before the destruction of European Jewry. Furthermore, it will examine Jewish reactions to SS terror inside the camps.
This article juxtaposes three types of illegitimate motherhood that came in the wake of the Second World War in Nazi Germany. The first found institutional support in the Lebensborn project, an elite effort to raise the flagging birth-rates, which at the same time turned a new page in the history of sexuality. The second came before the lower courts in the form of paternity and guardianship suits that had a long precedent, and the third was a social practice that the regime considered a ‘mass crime' among its female citizenry: namely, forbidden unions between German women and prisoners of war. Through these cases the article addresses issues such as morality, sexuality, paternity, citizenship and welfarism. The flesh-and-blood stories have been culled from the Lebensborn Dossiers and Special Court files, as well as cases from the lower courts.
Thirty years ago, the history of medicine was conceived largely as a history of medical ideas. To this older view of the field, scholars in recent decades have added a social and cultural history of medicine, which takes as its natural domain the particular animating contexts of place and time in which these ideas were applied by doctors to patients on a routine basis. In the case of psychology and psychiatry, to examine these ideas in situ means to write a history of the hospital and asylum. Curiously enough, the history of these medical establishments in continental Europe remains very inadequately explored, although several bodies of literature have dealt, either directly or by implication, with this area of inquiry. The bulk of French medical historiography through the years has been trapped in the commemorative mould. The 'histoire hospitaliere', as it is called, consists mainly of sketches of famous doctors and their discoveries, lists of material reforms and accounts of prominent buildings. These writings are very inward-looking in their treatment of the subject and, as might be expected, 'Whig' interpretations predominate. According to this well-known perspective, medical history provides the story of crude and abusive practices rooted in ignorance and superstition, superseded by humane and rational medical activities, selflessly exercised by licensed practitioners and based on an ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge. The hospital serves as the central institutional setting
This article deals with the treatment and wider understanding of shell-shock and trauma in modern Russia. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when psychiatrists in many European countries were beginning to think about the issue of shell-shock, Russian psychiatrists took part in the general debate. After the Bolshevik revolution, however, the Russian psychiatric profession became isolated and heavily ideologized, and the treatment of all forms of trauma within the Soviet Union developed along specific lines. At the social level, trauma disappeared as an issue. The idea of a damaged ego was not a central consideration in Soviet psychological thinking. People survived by working, and by reference to the collective, rather than to individual consciousness. Trauma, in its modern form of PTSD, only re-emerged in Soviet psychological discourse as a result of contact between veterans of the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan and American veterans of Vietnam. Despite the Soviet Union's anguished history, the concept of trauma is still largely ignored by the population as a whole.
This article discusses how the relationship between parents and their children were affected by the second world war in Germany. With fathers away from home for often as long as a decade, many children grew up without a father being physically present. The current historiography suggests that wartime separation caused a crisis in the family. But did the prolonged periods of time apart and the separate experiences of husbands at the Front and wives and children at home really destabilize family relationships? This article questions such a picture of families in ruin. It argues that family relationships were far more resilient in the face of wartime separation than has previously been credited. Indeed, it reveals the importance of children in keeping mothers and fathers focused on getting through the war. It further contends that, even from afar, fathers continued to play an important role in their children’s lives. And this in turn revises our understanding of the situation facing reuniting families.
This article sees the neuroses produced by twentieth-century wars as a kind of pathological historical determinism, in which an experience of war erodes participants’ ability to forget it and the traumatic past begins to govern the subsequent thinking and behaviour of survivors. Past events become determining through the way in which they are repressed and recovered, in so far as they are made into images and ideas which become the form of fears, recognitions and judgments. We may see how the past becomes a determining idea in the case histories of shell-shock victims and more largely in the way the 1914–18 war was forgotten and buried in the 1920s, and resurrected and published in the 1930s. The first world war caused the second in so far as it generated a new idea of total war and loss, a new image of massive collective injury which continued to specify the deepest fears of the postwar generations, governing our expectations and avoidances.
Revolutionary terrorism ('individual terror') has been of central importance in recent history, receiving widespread publicity. Yet in historical research and political science, it has remained a virtual no-man's land. Indeed, it has as yet not even been adequately defined. The first question confronting the student of terrorist events since the end of the nineteenth century is whether or not we are dealing with a phenomenon possessing its own special features. Is this a new form of revolutionary violence? Or perhaps merely the continuation of ancient political assassination, somewhat perfected—something in the nature of 'systematic assassination', which is differentiated from traditional political assassination in being, as Felix Gross puts it, "a political method, a tactic guided by a strategy?" It will be argued here that political terror as practised in the modern world is qualitatively new—a phenomenon essentially distinct from political assassination, as practised in the ancient and early modern eras. The modern terrorist not only uses methods different in kind from the political assassin, but also has a different view of his role, of society, and of the significance of his act. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
No abstract available.
This article examines whether Sir Walford Selby's assertion, made in the 1950s, that there was undue Treasury interference in the conduct of British foreign policy in the 1930s was true. In particular, it focuses on Selby's accusation that the former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, Lord Vansittart, failed to resist such interference.
Peer Reviewed
This article focuses on Wigram’s traditional image as a supporter of Winston Churchill’s anti-appeasement line from his position as Head of the Central Department in the Foreign Office. It questions the traditional portrayal of Wigram and argues that he was much more in the Foreign Office appeasement mainstream than is frequently suggested.
In the years following metapolitefsi (the 1974 transition from dictatorship to multi-party democracy) a plethora of groups from the far left appeared on the Greek post-junta political scene. Obsessed with the dynamics of the Athens Polytechnic revolt of November 1973, these marginal but vocal and persistent groups viewed the process of constitutional change and democratic consolidation with deep scepticism. Many of them did not accept the legitimacy of the transfer of power and used confrontational anti-regime rhetoric and radical forms of action to denounce constitutional structures and attack the regime’s legality, conservative ethos and lack of structured political solutions. The purpose of this article is to describe the emergence and evolution of the major extra-parliamentary groups of the left and to examine their analyses and interpretations of Greek political circumstances in the late 1970s. (Sage Publications)
There are two transitions in question in the Cuban case, neither of which entirely fits the model of dictatorship to liberal democracy: 1) the actual transition from Batista's regime (1952-8), which was undeniably a dictatorship, to the revolutionary government; 2) the prospective transition from Castro's government, in relation to which the term dictatorship is not very illuminating, to an uncertain future. History has a key role in both processes. Louis A. Pérez's claim that history served as 'handmaiden to the Cuban revolution', supplying 'moral subsidy and ... a sense of continuity', provides the starting-point for my development of two main themes. The first theme, related to the first transition, concerns the conditions of production of the revisionist historiography appropriated by the revolutionaries, which was boosted by a degree of state sponsorship, ironically from Batista himself in the early 1940s. The second theme is the emergence during the 1990s of a critique of the regime's monopoly over Cuba's past, which has its roots in the revolutionary government's own promotion of historical research and debate in the 1960s, before the ideological clampdown of the 1970s and 1980s. In both periods, historians have tried to create a space - however restricted in practice - for civil society. The main comparative point to emerge from the Cuban evidence is that changes in historical perspective can precede and even anticipate political transition.
Peer Reviewed
Peer Reviewed
This article examines the arguments and claims of the two groups which have been most active in the campaign for an apology from the Japanese for wartime atrocities and the group which believes that an apology would be counter to its advocacy of reconciliation. The claims and arguments made by the groups are used as a basis to explore further the role of apology within international politics and to develop the criteria for its use.
This article compares the combat motivation of Argentinian troops against guerrilla insurgents in a 1975-80 domestic counter-insurgency war with the performance of Argentinian soldiers against British forces in the 1982 Falklands war. The comparison reveals that the willingness to fire and fight differs from the desire to enter into war, and that combat motivation is not determined exclusively by mental preparedness, professional training and superior armament, but depends as much on shifting motivations and dynamic social and political circumstances during the armed conflict. Furthermore, combat motivation is also affected by the type of warfare conducted, and is only given meaning during a pause in the hostilities, when the desire to continue fighting is reassessed.
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union have again brought minorities in Central and Eastern Europe to the forefront of international attention and have generated renewed interest in the region's history between the two world wars. For all this, the continuing focus on conflictual aspects has obscured the efforts made at the time to build genuinely multicultural societies on the ruins of the old empires. This article examines an idea which was central to this endeavour, namely the principle of non-territorial cultural autonomy. The idea, originating with the Austro-Marxists Karl Renner and Otto Bauer, was uniquely adopted in the New Europe after the first world war by the Baltic countries, most notably Estonia. The doctrine recognized that the complex patterns of historical settlement in Central and Eastern Europe precluded a solution to nationality conflicts through the redrawing of territorial borders alone. Instead, it provided for a non-territorial expression of national identity, whereby minorities were allowed to constitute themselves as public corporations within their host states, enjoying full autonomy in the spheres of education and culture. The idea, taken up by the Congress of European Minorities from 1925, had far-reaching implications for the project of building a ‘United States of Europe’. It looked towards a Europe as a collection of nationalities rather than nation states. What was dismissed as utopian in an era beset by extreme nationalism has fresh resonance in today's ‘New Europe’, where West and East have finally been united within the supranational framework of the EU.
Consumer culture has moved to the centre of contemporary debates about society, identity and citizenship. This article cuts a critical, comparative pathway through the literature to point to new directions for historical work. Initially driving research, concepts like ‘consumer revolution’, ‘consumer society’ and ‘consumerism’ have become problematic analytical concepts for understanding the changing dynamics, practices and meanings of consumption. Historical research has lost touch with theoretical and conceptual developments in the social sciences. Engaging with recent work on urban spaces, retailing, work-place, scarcity, the state and consumer politics, this article develops perspectives to frame historical debate. Problematizing a stage-theory of global convergence, the article draws attention to divergence and disjunctures. Instead of drawing a contrast between ‘traditional’ culture and ‘modern’ acquisitive, consumerist mentality, it emphasizes the persistence of social and collective dimensions of consumption practices and identities. Instead of privileging a utility-maximizing individual or self-fashioning and self-oriented individual, it points to contingent civic sensibilities and political practices of consumers. To foster dialogue with the growing interdisciplinary field of consumer studies, historians need to broaden their conception of consumption, become more self-critical of invoking an essentialist consumer and unitary western model of consumerism, and instead, be more sensitive of how historical actors have developed their knowledge of consumption and identity as ‘consumers’.
Full-text of this article is not available in this e-prints service. This article was originally published [following peer-review] in Journal of Contemporary History, published by and copyright Sage. This article considers the interpretation of the ideological connections (or lack of them) between the German Youth Movement and National Socialism that were presented by Rolf Gardiner and Leslie Paul. Initially focusing on a debate between the two that was conducted in the pages of The Adelphi magazine in 1934, it goes on to consider the development of their views. Gardiner and Paul were probably the most knowledgeable British observers of the German Youth Movement at the time of the debate, and they presented diametrically opposed views. Over roughly the next ten years they went on to change their stance by adopting the position the other had taken in the debate. The article considers the possible import of this debate in the context of wider considerations about the German Youth Movement and politics.
Top-cited authors
Frank Trentmann
  • Birkbeck, University of London
Chris Lawrence
Mesut Yegen
  • Istanbul Sehir University
Sheila Fitzpatrick
  • The University of Sydney
David Anderson
  • The University of Warwick