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The Biologisation of National Belonging: Medical Doctors, Eugenics and Racial Anti-Semitism in Hungary and Romania, 1918-1940


The biologisation of national belonging is one of the most underrated features of Romanian and Hungarian historiographies. While nationalism, conservatism and liberalism have benefited from sustained interpretation, discussions of racism, Social Darwinism and eugenics are ignored topics in the scholarship of these countries. Interest in race, Social Darwinism and eugenics was, however, more widespread in Hungary and Romania than historians have noted. While Western European eugenics is well documented, little is known about its Central European counterpart. My general interest in this project is to integrate Romanian and Hungarian eugenics within the general international debate. More specifically, I try to demonstrate that: (a) Any perspective on the professionalization of medical doctors in Hungary and Romania between 1918 and 1940 is extremely limited unless it incorporates racial thinking and eugenics and discusses the role played by medical doctors and medical associations in disseminating these sets of ideas; (b) The scientific version of nationalism medical doctors envisioned cannot be completely comprehended unless it discusses the ways racial and eugenic concepts have influenced the national politics of Hungary and Romania and it inquires into how discourses on national medicalisation and sanitation gained ascendancy in the domestic politics of these states; (c) Finally, the discussion of anti-Semitism in the interwar period in Hungary and Romania should include the modalities by which volkish biomedical ideology was used to legitimise anti-Semitic politics within the medical profession. Using the methods of social and intellectual history, this project will unveil one of the most ambitious programmes of `national medicalisation¿ in Central Europe. A very interesting, if unusual, perspective on the biologisation of national belonging in Hungary and Romania will emerge by analysing the eugenic agendas proposed by medical doctors between 1918 and 1940.

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United Kingdom