Baldwin, Peter 1956-
BALDWIN, Peter 1956-
(As project director for the University of California) investigator award in health-policy research; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation award, 2000, for study The Influence of History and Tradition on Public Health Strategies: A Nationally Comparative Approach to the AIDS Epidemic.
(Editor) Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1990.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Research of the AIDS epidemic in historical perspective.
Peter Baldwin is a professor of history whose interests include modern Europe, Germany, France, and Scandinavia. As project director of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded project awarded to the University of California in 2000, Baldwin has studied the factors that have influenced AIDS responses in the United States, France, England, Germany, and Sweden. The study looks at social composition, local traditions, the political influence and clout of groups most severely affected by the AIDS epidemic, and other factors in determining how they impact, and to what degree, public health policy.
Baldwin's first volume, The Politics of Social Solidarity: Class Bases of the European Welfare State, 1875-1975, was called a "richly documented study" by Choice reviewer J. LaPalombara. Allan Mitchell noted in American Historical Review that because Baldwin studies five separate countries, "an exhaustive narrative of each over a full century is unfeasible. Accordingly, Baldwin adopts a typological approach that enables him to move deftly from one example to another. He is like a skillful juggler, forever attempting to keep several balls in the air at once while he handles the rest. It is a fiendishly difficult act to sustain, and the wonder is that he manages so well."
Pat Thane wrote in Business History Review that "Baldwin's interpretation is richly grounded in archival research in Danish, Swedish, German, and French, as well as in English, and he succeeds admirably in what he rightly describes as the difficult task of 'reconciling the social scientists' fondness for unimpededly logical argument with the historians' penchant for craggy detail'—a reconciliation that is obviously essential if we are ever to understand long-term process." Thane observed that "as Baldwin very clearly demonstrates, and as the politics of most developed nations daily show, social policy is the product of quite crude and open factional conflict and horse-trading among social groups with very real material interests at stake."
As editor of Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate Baldwin collected essays from Israeli, German, and English-speaking contributors to explore how the Holocaust period should be viewed—whether it should be historicized or set aside as something that can never be accepted or assimilated into history.
Contagion and the State in Europe, 1830-1930 is Baldwin's study of public health policies adopted in England, France, Germany, and Sweden, and the responses to such diseases as syphilis, smallpox, and cholera. It was during this period that the beginnings of current health policy were formed. On one hand, people were deciding how and to what extent government should be allowed to interfere in their private lives, and on the other, governments were determining how far they could go before the people rebelled. Governments enforced policies that allowed the treatment of sick people against their will, that required physicians to report certain diseases, and that enlisted the public to take part in compulsory measures to contain disease. Baldwin looks at whether prevention in these countries was most influenced by politics or by more basic differences.
Conventional thought dictates that public health systems were created and run according to the political orientation of the governing body. Baldwin finds that this is not necessarily so. Liberal states did not always use liberal measures, nor did autocratic states always use conservative measures. They tried various approaches in an attempt to strike a balance between effective disease control and the public's acceptance of a measure that would provide protection with out too much inconvenience. Policy was also different in countries less affected by a particular disease and whose larger population centers could observe its devastation from a distance.
Times Literary Supplement reviewer James C. Riley felt that the parts of the book that deal with the implications of disease prevention are "the most successful and interesting." Baldwin considers how the treatment and prevention of cholera might be different from that of syphilis, a disease spread by "sin." Closing a country's borders in an attempt to stop the spread of disease also results in economic loss with reduced trade, as well as limiting personal freedom. Baldwin shows that none of three diseases could be prevented with measures that would have been acceptable.
Riley wrote that "Baldwin is a stylist as well as a deeply curious researcher. Some passages are beautifully written, terms have been artfully chosen, there is humour, amusing and effective anecdotes abound." Riley concluded by saying that "for most readers, brought up to believe that people learn from their mistakes, or that they might do so, this will be a disturbing book. Baldwin argues that we are bound up in all previous decisions made and the prejudices and preferences that we have had. It is a kind of epidemiologic path dependence, a term coined by economists to describe the degree to which previous decisions lock us into certain technologies or behaviours. Nevertheless, Baldwin remains hopeful."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February, 1992, Allan Mitchell, review of The Politics of Social Solidarity: Class Bases of the European Welfare State, 1875-1975, pp. 185-186.
Business History Review, spring, 1992, Pat Thane, review of The Politics of Social Solidarity, p. 231.
Choice, April, 1991, J. LaPalombara, review of The Politics of Social Solidarity, pp. 1374-1375.
Michigan Quarterly Review, summer, 1991, Geoff Eley, review of Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate, pp. 488-505.
Times Literary Supplement, October 29, 1999, James C. Riley, review of Contagion and the State in Europe, 1830-1930. *