This is the web presence of the ERC Synergy team. 

With four teams, we are pursuing a six-year research project on the post-war history of Europe. The project is funded by the European Research Council.

Embodying the european leviathan

This part of the project aims to focus on body politics and reproduction in post-war Europe. Policies to encourage more childbirth and promote reproduction were in the focus of politics after the terrible human losses in the second world war. Increasing demographic concerns informed the politics of reproduction, the emerging abortion debates, and the institutional development of social welfare services. The biopolitical control took many forms – with marked differences between the Eastern and Western half of Europe, but also showing important similarities. Therefore, mapping the boundaries between the public and the private domain is crucial in understanding the conceptual and institutional differences between various health care systems after the second world war. By analyzing legal documents, judicial cases, and historical accounts we are going to explore how state socialism and welfare capitalism envisioned gender relations, sexuality, and bodily health – and, in turn, how these informed social research, public education, and policymaking.

Sustaining the Leviathan

Our studies have broadened the understanding of reproduction as part of biopolitics, encompassing all issues relating to the life course, especially the beginning and end of human life. Reproductive politics in post-war Europe were affected by rising demographic concerns over “ageing” populations and their repercussions on the economy and social systems. Reproductive policies (e.g. pregnancy care, (selective) abortion, assisted reproduction etc.) will be studied in relation to those oriented to end of life problems (e.g. eugenics, care institutions, euthanasia, etc.).  Life boundaries represent an intermediate domain where the enforcement of human rights, and the rights to dignity and privacy are especially challenging. Laws and legal cases on reproduction, the social and individual strategies in negotiating the edges of life are domains that are capable of telling us something essential: how different states in different periods treated their citizens when they were at their most dependent and not capable of fully pursuing their interests because of their vulnerability or their lack of capacity to consent. We will examine the intersections of medical developments, professional regulations, social security policies, health insurance schemes, institutions for, and commitments to birth, growing up, and aging in order to gain a wider understanding of the role of medicine in shaping moral values, legal norms and state welfare regulations. The understanding of reproduction tells us a lot about the European conception of the value of life, about what is considered “improper life”, and the limits of autonomy.

Managing the European Leviathan

The domain of Risk encompasses the ways in which societies managed threats to the individual and the social body. Medicine became one of the main means to define, manage, and distribute risk in post-war Europe. Medical risk politics involved anticipating, averting, responding to, organizing and regulating risk in both East and West. All social domains became involved: professionals reflected upon their ethical standards, authorities enforced regulative practices, business and industry anticipated legal restrictions, undue publicity, and expensive court procedures, and the “common man” (and woman) became in equal measure the object and the subject of precaution, prevention and prophylaxis. Our synergetic collaboration in this work package will examine how these norms and standards, practices and routines were (re)negotiated in different types of communicative spaces and institutional settings. We will also include those areas of medical research which were not regulated through formal and informal norms, and attempt to explain why that was the case. Applying diachronic and synchronic approaches, system modeling, and legal perspectives will yield a comprehensive understanding of how post-war Europe became a “risk society”.

Imagining the European Leviathan

The post-war period was also a time of new beginnings and hopes for a better future: Nuclear power, antibiotics, vaccines and a new spirit of internationalism promised to overcome disease, poverty and hardship. New knowledge techniques such as opinion polls, sexual sciences, psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy placed the individual at the center of research – as a subject that can be shaped, formed and developed for the utopian vision for a stronger and enhanced body.  How did policies and practices in the East were informed by the knowledge of the West’s behaviour and the desire to defeat the Other’s utopian vision. Conversely, we must inquire how politics in the West were shaped by their awareness of the Communist Other and its utopian vision for a “new socialist man”. The “superior body” became the standard for judging the success or failure of one political order or the other. Schools for gifted children, and intelligence tests were part of wider utopian visions. States developed new alternative disciplines (e.g. “Suggestology” and “Suggestopedia” in 1960s Bulgaria) aiming to harness the untapped powers of our brains and bodies. The legacy of eugenic utopias can be identified, for example, in health policies that transform the ideal of an inclusive socialist society into a national policy of ethnic homogeneity. The rise of “large medical systems” (perinatal medicine, organ transplantation, drug research) in both East and West was also conceived as a social technology for shaping utopian visions of the individual and society.

Host institutions


The Institute for the History of Medicine and Ethics in Medicine at Charité University Medicine Berlin is one of the oldest, most traditional and, above all, most successful university institutions in the field of the history of medicine and science. Special research focuses are the history of medicine under National Socialism, the history of psychiatry and pharmaceuticals, and the contemporary history of medicine. Numerous national as well as bi-national DFG research projects, participation in several collaborative projects (research training groups, research groups) and two ERC grants are owed to the special research infrastructure of the institute, namely the Medical Humanities Library, which integrates extensive scientific collections and databases in addition to about 120,000 titles in the printed collection.


Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Institut für Geschichte der Medizin und Ethik in der Medizin

Bibliothek Medical Humanities


Central European University is an undergraduate- and graduate-level “crossroads” university where faculty and students from more than 100 countries come to engage in interdisciplinary education, pursue advanced scholarship, and address some of society’s most vexing problems. CEU is accredited in the United States, Austria, and Hungary, and offers English-language bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in the social sciences, the humanities, law, management and public policy. Located in the heart of Central Europe — in Vienna and Budapest — CEU has a distinct academic and intellectual focus, combining the comparative study of the region’s historical, cultural, and social diversity with a global perspective on good governance, sustainable development and social transformation.


The Center for Ethics and Law in Biomedicine (CELAB) – was established in 2005 based on the recognition of a new and increasingly developing interdisciplinary field: the ethical, legal and social implications of biotechnology – provides the background for the Leviathan project. The CEU team collaborates with historians, bioethicists, lawyers, sociologists, and anthropologists to explore the similarities in the values attached to health, biomedicine, and health care across Europe and the common roots of the ethical principles behind health legislation in the European countries, East and West.



Central Europen University 

Center for Ethics and Law in Biomedicine


The University of Hamburg was founded in 1919. It is the largest institution for research and education in northern Germany. As one of the country’s largest universities, it offers a diverse range of degree programs and excellent research opportunities. The University boasts numerous interdisciplinary projects in a broad range of fields and an extensive partner network of leading regional, national, and international higher education and research institutions.


As part of the Excellence Strategy of the Federal and State Governments, the University of Hamburg has been granted clusters of excellence for 4 core research areas: Advanced Imaging of Matter (photon and nanosciences), Climate, Climatic Change, and Society (CLICCS) (climate research), Understanding Written Artefacts (manuscript research) and Quantum Universe (mathematics, particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology). 


Established in 2020 by Ulf Schmidt, the interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Health Ethics and Society is dedicated to researching the role of health and ethical values in medical science and societies across time and place. It currently looks at the history of shared ideas, policies and practices in post-war medicine and public health from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The centre includes expertise in medical history, ethics, propaganda, and cultural studies.


Universität Hamburg


The Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (IEFSEM – BAS) is a leading Bulgarian research institution performing both fundamental and applied research in the fields of ethnology, folklore studies, cultural and social anthropology, ethnomusicology, ethnochoreology, arts studies and museology. The Institute is engaged in consulting and expert activities in these fields, and is an educational institution as well.


The Leviathan Project is implemented by the team of Department Medical Anthropology. The Department focuses on a wide range of issues related to health, disease and treatment as social phenomena: the ways in which healthcare and medicine are organized, the development of health and medical ideas, practices, experiences in their social and cultural settings at the macro (global / European), meso- (regional / national) and micro level (social, ethnic, religious, professional groups).


The Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Medical Anthropology