Name: Kate Hiepko
Year of PhD: 2 of 3
Thesis topic: The history of diabetes research, care and prevention in the former German Democratic Republic, 1949-1990
Funding body: AHRC (North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership)
I am a second year PhD student here at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. I completed my undergraduate and Master’s degrees in History at the University of Bristol. My project examines the chronic disease diabetes mellitus in the state socialist context of the former German Democratic Republic. It centres on key strands of diabetes care (diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation), seeking to establish links between these and the political goals present within the GDR’s centralised healthcare system, such as prevention and economic determinism. It will explore a number of important institutions as sites for diabetes care, which include the Soviet-inspired polyclinics, a boarding school for diabetic children, and the large Institute for Diabetes ‘Gerhardt Katsch’ in Karlsburg on the North East coast, where internationally-recognised research into diabetes was conducted. The approach that I am taking is interdisciplinary, contributing not only to the history of chronic diseases (and diabetes more specifically) but also to the political and cultural history of the GDR. I will be interviewing patients in order to assess what it was like to live with a disease that requires close monitoring in a state known for its high surveillance, as well as medical professionals who were involved in diabetes care and clinical research. One particularly interesting example of a unique, specialist East German occupation was that of the diabetic nurse (Diabetikerfürsorgerin) who acted as an intermediary between doctors and patients. I also intend to draw on official archival material and medical case notes written in East German diabetes advice centres, all of which are held at several regional archives and Germany’s national Bundesarchiv in Berlin.