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Oncomotions: New Perspectives on 20th Century Cancer History

Cancer had a devastating impact on the lives of many people in the 20th century, and it is thus no wonder that it is closely linked to a wealth of different emotions. But to what extent did the experience of cancer actually shape emotional practices like fear, hope, grief, and disgust and impact people’s attitudes towards their own body, psyche, existence, suffering, and death? This project traces shifts in emotional cultures and practices around cancer and analyzes their relation to research practices, health politics, doctor-patient relations, and the use of therapeutic devices and techniques.

Asclepitron, Inselklinik Bern 1957
© Asclepitron, Inselklinik Bern 1957

picture credit: Adolf Zuppinger, Liselotte Frank, Hansrudolf Renfer, Adam Schreiber und Conrad Tütsch, „Früherfahrungen mit dem 31-MeV-Betratron“, in Strahlentherapie, Vol. 102, 3 ( 1957): 407-418, 410

In placing the role of emotions center stage, this project brings together different aspects of cancer history that are usually treated separately, such as the scientific history of medical research, the production and transmission of knowledge in laboratories and hospital wards, the cultural and political history of early detection campaigns, and the everyday history of the social and individual experience of living with cancer. In doing so, this project highlights the hidden links that tied together these different aspects of cancer’s history and details how, when and in which “guise” emotions were at work here.

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In the Media

Publications

  • Hitzer, B., Krebs fühlen. Die Emotionsgeschichte der Krebserkrankung im 20. Jahrhundert (unveröffentlichte Habilitationsschrift, eingereicht im April 2017, FU Berlin).
  • Hitzer, B. & León-Sanz, Pilar (2016), The Feeling Body and Its Diseases: How Cancer Went Psychosomatic in Twentieth-Century Germany. In Osiris 31, S. 67-93.
  • Hitzer, B. (2015), How to Detect Emotions? The Cancer Taboo and Its Challenge to a History of Emotions. In H. Flam/J. Kleres (Hg.), Methods of Exploring Emotions, London: Routledge, S. 259-267.
  • Hitzer, B. (2014), Angst, Panik?! Eine vergleichende Gefühlsgeschichte von Grippe und Krebs in der Bundesrepublik. In Malte Thießen (Hg.), Infiziertes Europa. Seuchen im langen 20. Jahrhundert (Beihefte der Historischen Zeitschrift 64), München: De Gruyter/Oldenbourg, S. 137-156.
  • Hitzer, B. (2014), Oncomotions. Experiences and Debates in West Germany and the United States after 1945. In F. Biess/D.M. Gross (Hg.), Science and Emotions after 1945: A Transatlantic Perspective, Chicago: Chicago University Press, S. 157-178.