Wallstein Verlag

Silvia Berger

Bacteria in Times of War and Peace

A history of medical bacteriology in

476 pages, 14 x 22,2 cm
ISBN: 978-3-8353-0556-4 (September 2009)


German Version

The story of medical bacteriology and its attempt to »eradicate« all of mankind`s »invisible enemies«: the rise and fall of a leading science in the modern age.

When the WHO announced the »eradication of smallpox« in 1980, the vision of a world free of infectious diseases seemed to be within reach. For the first time, it seemed possible to »wipe out« epidemics by means of bacteriology. However, just a short time later, when new pathogens emerged and old ones resurfaced that had long since been considered defeated, it became clear that this was an illusion. Focussing on Germany between 1890 and 1933, Silvia Berger reveals that this was not the first time that the belief in the possibility of controlling infectious diseases had been shattered. After the First World War, bacteriology was already facing a serious crisis. The dream of destroying all »invisible enemies« and creating »pure« bodies and territories, rigorously pursued by military bacteriologists between 1914 and 1918, now faded into the background. In the 1920s, the scientists working in this exclusive field were forced to admit that they were no longer in a position to explain the complex interaction of micro and macro-organisms with their hypotheses. Rather than being considered a »war«, the relationship between bacteria and humans began to be expressed in terms such as »balance« or »symbiosis«, as a kind of peaceful co-existence.

In 2008, the study was awarded the Henry-E.-Sigerist Prize for young academics by the Society for the History of Medicine and Science.

The Authoress
Silvia Berger, born in 1973, studied history, political science and international law in Zurich and Berlin.
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