A new medical history journal: EHMH

Another medical history journal? Yes, but one with a very specific agenda and an attractive approach. Associate editor (and HHH chairman) Frank Huisman presents the new European Journal for the History of Medicine and Health, and explains why this is such a valuable addition to the range of journals in our discipline.

Frank Huisman

In September 2021, a new medical history journal was launched: the European Journal for the History of Medicine and Health (EHMH). The journal is a collaboration between the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH) and the Swiss Society for the History of Medicine and Sciences (SSHMS).

Many people may be sceptical about the initiative and wonder: yet another medical history journal, with so many fine journals around? They may be thinking of journals like Medical History, Social History of Medicine, the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, and the Journal for the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (a.k.a. ‘the Big Four’). Of course, these are indeed excellent journals. In fact, they may be regarded as the leading journals in our field. At the same time, however, they are collectively the embodiment of a global trend: the dominance of English as the lingua franca in science and the humanities. This linguistic dominance has led to a methodological and historiographical bias to the extent that publishing about the history of medicine and health in English-speaking countries has become the norm.

As a consequence, the continental history of medicine and health is in danger of being ignored or left to ‘local’ researchers whose work remains hidden behind linguistic barriers: quod non est in lingua anglica non est in mundo. This constitutes a loss, if only for comparative reasons. With the new journal, we hope to complement and counterbalance the intellectual monoculture in our field. The new journal is not intended to be in competition with anything or anybody. Quite the contrary: we intend to bring new knowledge about ‘forgotten regions’ to the field. We seek to provide a platform to all medical historians living and working in Europe and beyond. By making continental medical history available to the wider world, the new journal intends to show the sheer richess and diversity of all medical history.

When writing about their own countries, continental European medical historians tend to refer to ‘the Big Four’. But although it is perfectly understandable that they should be impressed by the soundness of the methodology, the innovativeness of the historiography, and the eloquence of the work done in Anglophone countries, they should not fall into the trap of moulding their own stories to UK or US patterns of approach, argument or narrative. Each culture and each nation has a history of its own, and this should lead to specific historical narratives. In this sense, the new journal is an attempt at enriching the infrastructure for medical history on the continent.

While we are striving for the ‘emancipation’ of continental medical history, there is of course much more to the world than just Europe. The journal will use a broad understanding of ‘Europe’, ranging from Europe as a geographical and political space, to Europe as a narrative. Our plea for regional and national self-awareness in the European context goes, mutatis mutandis, for regional and national self-awareness in Africa, Asia and South America. Indeed, if history is about contextualizing the human condition in its time-and-place-specific context, this goes for all contexts across the globe. The new journal has no intention of being Eurocentric, but aspires to be open-minded and all-inclusive. As Dipesh Chakrabarty phrased it: ‘No country is a model to another country, though the discussion of modernity that thinks in terms of “catching up” precisely posits such models’.

Submissions to the EHMH are welcome in any European language, all of which the Editorial Board will aspire to represent. When a manuscript meets the standard for selection, it will be translated into English and submitted to the editors-in-chief. On acceptance, the manuscript will be published in English with a double abstract: one in English, and one in the language of origin, while the original manuscript will also be published on the journal’s website. Thus, two communities are served: the international community and the ‘local’ one, creating an international awareness of the medical history of all regions in Europe and beyond. The EHMH intends to publish articles about the history of medicine and health in all European countries, including the UK, in the awareness that they are symmetrical stories – not just in a European sense, but also in a global context. Only then can we hope to redress the balance that has been uneven for so long; only then can we hope to find, describe and analyse – in sickness and in health, in life as in the face of death – the human condition across the globe.

Read also: Hieke Huistra’s great column in Trouw about the EMHM and why we need it (in Dutch).