5 Nov 2018 5:00pm - 7:00pm Seminar Room, SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road


Discussion of the book with the author

Dora Vargha, (University of Exeter  )
Polio Across the Iron Curtain: Hungary's Cold War with an Epidemic (Cambridge University Press 2018)

This reading group session explores the history of polio in Hungary. Dora Vargha will present her new book Polio across the Iron Curtain: Hungary’s Cold War with an Epidemic' (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

Spread by a virus and potentially causing permanent paralysis, poliomyelitis (or infantile paralysis, as it was also known in the era) in the 1950s became a major public health concern across the globe – and the Iron Curtain. From a Hungarian perspective, Dora Vargha explores the Cold War history of polio on three registers of analysis that move from global politics, governmental and institutional concerns, to the patient-doctor level. Scientists, parents and children worked within and challenged the political, social and medical systems in which their lives were integrated. Virologists and physicians drew on their transnational relations and personal network to be participants in international conferences and study trips and to gain knowledge on cutting edge research  and technology. Parents smuggled vaccines, if it was needed; children openly resisted medical procedures; and both crossed the Iron Curtain in hope of a better treatment option. They obtained skills in operating intricate respiratory machines and reinterpreted childhood games to include all levels of mobility. When the state became disinterested in polio, they became depositories of medical knowledge. The unique geopolitical situation of Hungary on the boundary of the Iron Curtain and the construction of a new communist regime makes the country an ideal ground to understand the influence of the Cold War in forming global health responses to epidemic crises. With a vaccine first arriving from the West, followed by a new serum from the East, the Hungarian story highlights issues of international politics, experimentation and standardisation in epidemic prevention. Furthermore, focus on Hungary allows linking of the intimate world of families with national and international agendas through care for disabled children with polio.

Dora Vargha, Iron Curtain, Iron Lungs from Polio across the Iron Curtain: Hungary’s Cold War with an Epidemic (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Chapter II
Dora Vargha, Socialist Utopia in Practice: Everyday Life and Medical Authority in a Hungarian Polio Hospital, in Social History of Medicine, 31, 2, (2018):  373–391

To obtain the readings please contact Caroline Rusterholz cr523@cam.ac.uk



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