Health and History

Erasmus Research Group

About the Health and History research group

The Erasmus Research Group on Health and History (EHH) comprises researchers who engage with the urgent questions of health and societies globally by using historical research and analysis to understand the changes underwent by the concepts of the public, health, illness and medicine, and to discover new historical insights into the numerous and multi-faceted experiences of health and illness.

Health and illness are historically contingent terms. What it means to be healthy and its corollary, what it means to be ill, has undergone changes through time, has varied according to location and culture, and is influenced by religion, the economy and politics. The objects of health and illness have also experienced changes. From the individual to groups, from families to societies, and depending on social or political classes, the objects of health interventions, and the units of understanding health and illness, have not remained static. Societies and individuals have dealt with these questions for millennia, sometimes with knowledge from their own immediate surroundings, often within wider networks of knowledge and health practices.

Our research programme at EHH, entitled The Public, Health and History, investigates how medicine and health constitutes the public and how the public constitutes medicine and health. The main question we seek to answer is who is the “public” in “public health”? That there are separate terms for “public”, “health”, and “history” in actual fact belies their interconnectedness and how each term is constituted by the others. Who is included and excluded from “the public” through history, and hence from health inventions, and why?  How does medicine and health shape the very idea of what and who a public is, male or female, the enslaved or free, colonized or colonizer? What frames of reference make themselves felt in health and medical considerations, such as national, colonial and post-colonial, economic, or historical experiences? The research group engages with these issues using historical research embedded in the on-going present-day engagements with medicine and public health.

The Erasmus Research Group on Health and History (EHH) overcomes a number of problems in the field of the history of medicine and health. Often seen as a subfield of both history and medicine, this traditionally small subdiscipline is characterized by the lack of a critical mass of scholars necessary to delve into such a rich, expanding, and societally- and scientifically-relevant field. At our research group, we seek to overcome this and to bridge the divides between historians, on the one hand, and medics and public health experts on the other, and between historians working at medical faculties and those at humanities faculties. EHH comprises historians at the ESHCC, a humanities and social sciences faculty, and historians of medicine at Erasmus MC, a medical faculty and hospital, combining up-to-date methodological developments in historical science, in fields such as social and economic history, cultural history, medical humanities, developments in textual analysis, digital and quantitative methods, material and visual culture, while at the same time being an intrinsic part of the domain of medicine and public health.

Members within ESHCC

Professor of the Social History of War, Mass Violence and Genocide at the History Department, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Researcher at NIOD, Amsterdam

Portrait picture of Ralf Futselaar

Dr. Ralf Futselaar is a researcher at the NIOD: Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and professor of the Social History of War, Mass Violence and Genocide at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is primarily a public historian, working on commissioned research into the social and medical impact of mass violence in Asia and Europe. He is currently principal investigator of the Dutch national investigation into the care for psychiatric patients and people with mental disabilities during the Nazi occupation. He is active in the development of new digital methodologies for the study of large historical datasets, notably the use of distributional semantics, and the development and teaching of digital source criticism. In addition, he is involved in several projects investigating the health impact of violence and deprivation on young children in the Twentieth Century.

Ralf teaches an undergraduate course titled "Biopower: Feeding, Breeding and Bleeding for World Domination", on the biopolitical aspects of war and imperialism. He also supervises theses in medical history, digital humanities and conflict history.

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Assistant Professor of History, Programme Leader of Erasmus research group on Health and History

Portrait of Sandra Manickam

Dr Sandra Khor Manickam is Assistant Professor of History at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a historian of colonial Malaya and Southeast Asia who currently focuses on the history of medicine and colonialism in the first half of the twentieth century. A project close to completion is a monograph tentatively entitled Medicine in Malaya 1914-1950 on the intersections of medicine, colonialism and war under British colonialism and Japanese occupation, and has previously written on the history of racial science and anthropology. Her book, Taming the Wild: Aborigines and Racial Knowledge in Colonial Malaya, was published with NUS Press in 2015. She is also Managing Editor of the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS) under editor Paul Kratoska. Her current project is on the intersection of the history of race and genetics in the contemporary period.

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Associate Professor of History

Portrait picture of Daniel Curtis

Daniel R. Curtis is an Associate Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Much of his work relates to the subject of societal responses to and impact of epidemics in historical perspective—for which he has received two back-to-back major grants from the NWO (VENI and VIDI). He has published widely on epidemics and ‘bottom-up’ resistance to authorities during epidemics; how epidemics redistribute resources and opportunities; the gendered dimensions of epidemics; and the visual representation of epidemics, but also has much broader interests in the concepts of “resilience” and “vulnerability” and their historical application. Dr. Curtis has authored/co-authored two major books – “Coping with Crisis” (Ashgate, 2014), “Disasters and History” (CUP, 2020), and has a third book appearing this year with the title “Infectious Inequalities: Epidemics, Trust and Social Vulnerabilities in Cinema”.

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PhD researcher

Portrait of Martijn van der Meer

Martijn van der Meer (MSc) is a PhD researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is interested in the role that biomedical concepts played in handling the challenges of modern society. Under supervision of Timo Bolt and Ralf Futselaar, Martijn currently investigates how health professionals, officials and parents practically shaped child health intervention during the twentieth century, to analyse how local health infrastructures interacted with twentieth-century political debates on risk, prevention, and public health.

Martijn also has an interest in the historical sociology of late modern science, and in particular, of research funding, academic publishing culture, peer-review, and academic integrity. He cares about improving the academic system through interdisciplinary projects fostering a transparent, engaged, and trustworthy research culture. Next to his research at Erasmus University, Martijn is a policy-advisor focused on responsible research at Tilburg University, as well as co-founder and chair of the Centre of Trial and Error. He previously worked as lecturer and researcher for Utrecht University’s Open Science Programme.

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Members within EMC

Associate Professor of medical history

Portrait of Timo Bolt

Dr. T.C. (Timo) Bolt  is a historian of science and medicine. He is associate professor of medical history at Erasmus MC. His research focusses on the contemporary history (1945-present) of medical science and technology, concepts of health and disease, public health and mental health care. For his dissertation 'A Doctor’s Order: the Dutch Case of Evidence-Based Medicine (1970-2015)' ánd his contributions to medical history in general, he received the Gerrit-Arie Lindeboom Award in 2019.  Bolt is also the medical history editor at the Dutch Journal of Medicine (NTvG).

Currently, Bolt is (a.o.) involved in: a historical-philosophical research project on changing concepts of health and disease, funded by the Dutch Organisation of Scientific Research (NWO); an European historical-demographic research collaboration on health (inequalities) in port cities; a new NWO-funded research project on the 20th century evolution of preventive healthcare for very young children in the Netherlands.

In addition, Bolt teaches medical history in the broadest sense at the Erasmus MC and the UMCG in Groningen. He is currently involved in the setting up of new and innovative education programs on academic skills, diversity and inclusivity and pandemics.

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Assistant professor of medical history

Portrait of Noortje Jacobs

Dr. N. (Noortje) Jacobs is a historian of science and assistant professor of medical history at the Erasmus MC. Her work centers around the history of medicine, morality, and modern society. She investigates how modern societies have negotiated the moral boundaries of medicine and how this impacts professional and patient identities. With this historical perspective, she seeks to inform present-day debates about the governance of medicine.

Her PhD-research on the changing ethical governance of human experimentation in medicine since 1945 won a 2018 Dissertation Prize honorary mention of the History of Science Society. In 2019, the Netherlands Organization for Health Research, ZonMw, gave her the first-ever grant for historical research - on the late-modern history of medical research funding - to inform their policy. Currently, she aims to extend her research to the issue of the medical use of human bodily materials. Finally, she is one of the initiators of a worldwide scholarly network around the topic of ‘accountability in global health care’.

At the Erasmus MC, she teaches about her research to medical students and leads an education renewal project aimed at the design of interdisciplinary teaching on pandemics.  In addition, she co-coordinates the faculty’s Research Integrity program.

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Assistant professor of medical history

Portrait of Floor Haalboom

Dr. A.F. (Floor) Haalboom is a medical, science and environmental historian. She is assistant professor of medical history at the Erasmus MC (University Medical Center Rotterdam). Her research focuses on the modern history of environmental and health problems associated with modern livestock farming, veterinary medicine, One Health and concepts of health and disease. She obtained her doctoral degree in the history of (veterinary) medicine at Utrecht University in 2017. Recently (2020-2021), she did postdoctoral research on the history of diabetes, as part of the philosophical-historical research project ‘Health and disease as practical concepts: a pragmatist approach to conceptualization of health and disease’ at the department Medical Ethics, Philosophy and History of  Erasmus MC, and funded by the Dutch Organization of Scientific Research (NWO)

Currently, she is working on the project ‘What does your meat eat? A global environmental history of Dutch livestock feed (1954-2020)’, for which she obtained a Carson Fellow grant in 2018-2019 and a Dutch Organization of Scientific Research (NWO) Veni grant in 2020.

In addition, Haalboom teaches medical history to medical students at the Erasmus MC. Moreover, she recently developed new, innovative teaching modules on ‘diversity & inclusivity’.

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Conservator/curator of the medical and academic heritage collection of Erasmus MC ánd postdoctoral researcher (NWO Rubicon scholarschip) at University of Durham

Portrait of Ruben Verwaal

Dr. Ruben E. Verwaal is Curator of Medical Collections at Erasmus MC Rotterdam, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University. As historian and curator, Ruben specialises in the material culture of health, (dis)ability, and medicine. His book Bodily Fluids, Chemistry and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Boerhaave School (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) argues that the introduction of chemical research methods and instruments crucially changed the perception of bodily fluids, which contributed to a new understanding of the human body and a new system of medicine. Ruben’s current Dutch Research Council Rubicon project Deafness in Transition (2019–2022) combines cultural history, deafness studies, and critical medical humanities. It investigates popular perceptions and medical understandings of hardness of hearing in early modern Europe. In conversation with Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, audiologists, and ENT-physicians today, the project presents an eighteenth-century model of deafness as a helpful alternative to reconsider today’s challenge of inclusive healthcare.

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Illustration of Mary Mallon saying Typhoid Mary

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