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Health Care, the Circulation of Medical Knowledge, and Research in the Soviet Gulag in the 1930s

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This article aims at a historical analysis of medical culture, health care services, and medical research in the GULAG. After presenting a brief history of the GULAG medical service, the study focuses on the specific features and factors surrounding medical knowledge production, implementation, and circulation. The article also investigates medical research conducted within the GULAG, touching upon the situation in which it emerged and the ways it was carried out. It argues that due to several factors, which will be discussed in detail, the GULAG health care proved internally deficient and failed to fulfill its main task, namely the preservation of the health of the prisoners. The circulation of medical knowledge in the GULAG had unique features, which are all explained by the specific character of the semi-military regime of this penitentiary institution, veiled in secrecy, and the severe underfinancing of the medical service. Medical research, conducted in the Soviet GULAG in conditions of professional isolation, nevertheless contributed to the development of medical science in the Soviet Union, especially the diagnostics and treatment of specific diseases caused by malnutrition in extreme climatic conditions.

Affiliations: 1: Nordic Research Institute, Petrozavodsk State University


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