The get-to-know: Cécile Stehrenberger

Cécile Stephanie Stehrenberger studied history, economy and philosophy at the University of Zurich Switzerland, where she also received her PhD for her dissertation on histories of Spanish colonial and gender politics during the Francoist dictatorship. She was an assistant professor at the history department of the University of Zurich, a visiting scholar at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center, the Drexel University in Philadelphia and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. Cécile was also a joint fellow at the Max-Weber-Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies’ research group “ordering dynamics” at the University of Erfurt, Germany and is currently a research fellow at the Technical University of Braunschweig’s History of Science and Technology department. She is working on a habilitation project on the history of social science disaster research during the Cold War that explores how a cluster of research groups conducted hundreds of field studies investigating human reactions to both natural and technological disasters, as well as to “racial riots”.
You can find links to several of Cécile’s publications on her webpage.

Selected articles of interest with regards to workshop theme:

Katastrophen, Cold War Social Sciences und Fallwissen. Zur Geschichte der sozialwissenschaftlichen Katastrophenforschung, in: Itinera. Beiheft zur Schweizerischen Zeitschrift für Geschichte 40, 2016, S. 119-135.

Fallgeschichten werden seit dem 18. Jahrhundert zunehmend genutzt, um juristisches, psychologisches und medizinisches Wissen einer grösseren Öffentlichkeit zu vermitteln. In den letzten zehn Jahren haben sie auch in den Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften mehr Aufmerksamkeit erfahren. Die Diskussion über paradigmatische Fälle in diesem Band zielt darauf ab, Fallgeschichten in ihrer Funktion als besonders anschauliche oder lehrreiche Beispiele in verschiedenen historischen Kontexten zu untersuchen und zu vergleichen. Die in diesem Heft versammelten Texte gehen der Frage nach, wie Fälle dazu beitragen, Debatten zu verdichten und Entwicklungen erzählbar zu machen, wie sie über den Einzelfall hinausgehendes Wissen generieren und so paradigmatischen Status erlangen. Neben konzeptuellen Gesichtspunkten widmen sich die Beiträge mehreren Forschungsfeldern, darunter der Rechts- und Medizingeschichte, der Geschichte der Geschichtsschreibung, literarischen Fällen, den Sozialwissenschaften und der Technikgeschichte.

Mental Illness and Social Science Disaster Research, 1949–1985
Stehrenberger, C.S. N.T.M. (2016) 24: 61. doi:10.1007/s00048-016-0135-6

During the second half of the 20th century several American multidisciplinary social science „disaster research groups“ conducted numerous field studies after earthquakes, factory explosions and “racial riots”, both inside and outside of the United States. Their aim was to investigate the reactions and behavior of individuals, organizations and communities to disasters. All of these groups were either promoted or at least partly founded by different branches of the US military. This article will analyze the groups’ studies and findings on the question of disasters’ psychological effects. The main focus will be on the stance the scientists took on the diagnosis of psychological trauma—especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—and the post disaster therapeutic interventions that became widespread in the 1970s and early 1980s. The disaster researchers questioned the need for, as well as the effectiveness and efficiency of “disaster mental health”. At the same time they advocated early ideas of resilience, which later became one of the most important concepts in disaster management and beyond.

Disaster medicine: Genealogy of a concept, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 120, November 2014, Pages 317–324.

This paper evaluates disaster medicine from a historical perspective that facilitates the understanding of its present. Today, disaster medicine and humanitarian medicine are inextricably linked and the terms are sometimes used synonymously. An in-depth analysis of an extensive body of concrete empirical cases from various sources (i.e. archival records) reveals, however, that they have not always been the same. A genealogical, history-of-knowledge approach demonstrates that the concept of disaster medicine emerged in the early 20th century in Switzerland in the context of industrialization. Even though it gained important impetus during the First World War, the concept was informed by the experiences of forensic physicians in technological disasters such as mining explosions. The Cold War constituted the historical constellation in which disaster medicine was developed in West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s in a way that was paradigmatic for other Western European countries. At the same time, it was contested there in an unusual, historically unique way. Although focusing on a Western European context, this paper explores how medical interventions in disasters were international events and how the practice of disaster medicine was developed and “trained” through being applied in the Global South. It demonstrates the historicity of disaster medicine’s political character and of the controversies generated by its involvement in civil and military operations. Throughout the 20th century, the political nature and military involvement of disaster medicine resulted in a number of ethical and practical issues, which are similar to the challenges facing humanitarian medicine today. The exploration of disaster medicine’s past can therefore open up critical interventions in humanitarian medicine’s present.