Professor Oberle Studies Health Care Issues in Berlin

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Clara M. Oberle, Ph.D., a professor of Modern European History at USD since 2008, spent the summer of 2009 in Berlin to conduct research on her project "Health Care Debates and Policies in Immediate Postwar Cities." This is a topic of interest to historians, health policy-makers, and wider audiences.

Oberle's work has been featured in the European press, radio, and the EU's Network on Health and Social Welfare Policy. Her residence in Berlin this summer allowed for presentations and exchanges with scholars from Poland, Sweden, France, Switzerland, the United States, and Germany, some of these at the renowned Center for Contemporary History (ZZF) in Potsdam.

 She has since submitted her findings for publication and has been invited to present her work on postwar Berlin at the German Studies Association conference in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8 – 11, 2009.

Concerns for sustainable peace, social justice, and public health in the light of war and destruction were at the forefront of debates in postwar Europe. Oberle focuses on Berlin which, like many other war-ravaged European cities in the 1940s, had to address severe building damage, homelessness, and the threat of spreading epidemics. Not an easy task for Europe's cities during a time in which resources, despite some foreign aid, were limited.

Allied officials and political observers stationed in Berlin were particularly concerned with the housing and health crisis as they feared not just pandemics but violent popular unrest, resentment, and the continued grip of what one observer called "the bony hand of National Socialism."

What might a summer of history research look like?

Oberle could be found poring over the writings of allied and Berlin doctors, military government officials, surgeon generals, architects, legal experts, politicians, as well as Berlin police, welfare court, and hospital records. These are now held at archives and museums spread across Germany's capital. Letters and diaries of private individuals, sometimes tucked away in musty Berlin district archives, likewise proved important.

Oberle's knowledge of French and Russian, in addition to her native German and English, allows her to work with sources in the original. “I am grateful for the opportunity to study languages while doing my Ph.D. at Princeton University,” says Oberle, an enthusiastic proponent of USD's international curriculum and language requirements.

For Oberle, this summer's research proved particularly exciting, not least because she could transcend national histories and access newly de-classified archival holdings that had been off-limits during the Cold War.

The summer in Berlin was key for another reason: this year Europe commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. As an expert on modern German history, Oberle has been invited to present research on the Berlin Wall at the Freedom Without Walls Symposium, November 9- 10, 2009, at Chapman University in Los Angeles.

While in Berlin— on two occasions even in the cheerful company of USD colleagues — she had a chance to examine some recent exhibits on this topic. She also met with members of the Berlin City Senate Administration to learn about the latest debates and plans for memorials to the Communist and National Socialist Past.

The summer was thus no less important for the new courses on Modern German and Eastern European History which Oberle will be offering at USD. Her students will have a chance to study the connection between European history, memory, and politics.

“Europe's past is still very much with us,” Oberle notes.

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