Our last episode is a special one. We first join Dr. Doina Anca Cretu to explore some facets of a terrible humanitarian and health crisis that took place in a war-torn Europe during World War I. By July 1915 Austria-Hungary was the site of this “unprecedented” crisis: the military had received massive losses, the state was struggling economically, poverty was growing, and on top of everything a mass displacement of people emerged. Dr. Cretu guides us in the reading of several sources about or by these displaced individuals to explore their experiences of epidemics, which were quickly becoming infused by scientific discourse.

“…the refugees who came from the coastal land with their light, thin robes and the small crying children generally aroused pity and one was tempted to take them into an empty room in the house. But this charity repeatedly had bad consequences. The refugees brought in diseases. Thus, rashes appeared on such privately accommodated refugees in Gmünd weeks ago and in Böhmzeil last week, which made the moving of the refugees into the barracks even more difficult. The house and town were infected, so the houses were disinfected and the authorities ordered emergency vaccinations.

[Waldviertler Bote, 5. 2. 1916]

After the interview, we join cohosts Ian Hathaway, Jorge Díaz Ceballos, and Gašper Jakovac to share some thoughts about the whole arch of historical experiences covered by this podcast. What have we learned and what have we struggled with during our time working on Experiencing Epidemics? We explore these questions as we try to provide our listeners, and ourselves, with a bit of closure.


Dr. Doina Anca Cretu is a historian of modern Europe. Her research focuses on foreign aid, migration, and human rights. She holds a Ph.D. in International History from the Graduate Institute and is currently a Research Fellow within the European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant project “Unlikely Refuge? Refugees and Citizens in East-Central Europe during the Twentieth Century,” based at the Masaryk Institute and Archives of The Czech Academy of Sciences. She is also developing her first monograph, titled “In Quest of an Ideal: Foreign Aid and State Reconstruction in Interwar Romania.”

Further Readings

Cretu, Doina Anca. “Health, Disease, Mortality; Demographic Effects,” in 1914-1918-online International Encyclopedia of the First World War. Edited by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson. Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin, 17 November 2020. DOI: 10.15463/ie1418.11496.

Gatrell, Peter. The Making of the Modern Refugee. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Herrmann, Martina. “‘Cities of Barracks.’” Refugees in the Austrian part of the Habsburg Empire during the First World War,” in Europe on the Move. Refugees in the Era of the Great War. Edited by Peter Gatrell and Liubov Zhankov, 129-155, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2017.

Rollet, Catherine. “The ‘Other War’ I. Protecting Public Health,” in Capital Cities at War. Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919. Edited by Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert, 421-455, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Weindling, Paul. Epidemics and Genocide in Eastern Europe,1890-1945. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

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