Leverhulme Fellowship awarded to Professor Dan Healey for study of Stalin’s Gulag and its Medical Staff

Dan Healey, professor of modern Russian history in OSGA has been awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship for 2021-22, to complete his book-length study of the medical staff who worked in Joseph Stalin’s Gulag camps in the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1953.

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The Fellowship will enable Professor Healey to finish his book, tentatively entitled “Gulag Hospital: The Paradox of Medical Care in Stalin’s Forced-Labour Camps”, to be published by Yale University Press.

“Gulag Hospital” explores the biographies of doctors and nurses, forced (as prisoners themselves) or hired (as employees on contracts) to treat inmates in Stalin-era labour camps. Enmeshed in penal regulation, medical staff were subordinate to commandants and hamstrung by the prisoner-status of their patients. They faced extremes of repression, supply shortages, and isolation. Yet they still created hospitals, re-fed some prisoners, treated diseases, cared for prisoners’ offspring, and operated on and “saved” a proportion of their patients.

The book asks how doctors, nurses, and paramedics met these challenges, even as it explores how Soviet collectivism and bureaucracy distorted Hippocratic values. Alongside survivor-memoirists such as Varlam Shalamov, Evgeniia Ginzburg, and Viktor Samsonov, the book argues that perspectives on Gulag medicine which focus only on “diabolical” features – undeniably egregious – ignore the constructive deeds of many of the tens of thousands who worked in this service.

“Gulag Hospital” pioneers the study of power relations inside the camp administration and it looks beyond Moscow to investigate camps in several important regions. Each chapter explores a facet of medical history based on a focal medical professional’s memoir, balanced with analysis of archives and survivor testimony. Healey travelled to museums and archives in Komi, Kolyma, Moscow, St Petersburg, Perm’ and Ekaterinburg in Russia; and Tbilisi in Georgia to reconstruct Gulag medical practice from local sources. “Gulag Hospital” offers an unprecedented view of Stalin’s forced-labour camps as experienced by the medical staff who served there.