Ulf Schmidt is Professor of Modern History, Director of the Centre for the History of Medicine, Ethics and Medical Humanities at the University of Kent, and principle investigator of the Porton Down Project on the history of chemical warfare research during the Cold War. Professor Schmidt is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He was previously Wellcome Trust Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, and Senior Associate Member of St Antony's College, Oxford University. In 2004 Professor Schmidt was appointed by HM Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon as one of the principle expert witnesses on informed consent in the Inquest looking into the death of Leading Aircraftman Ronald Maddison, a British serviceman, who died after being exposed to the nerve agent Sarin in 1953.
His work has looked at the history of modern medical ethics, warfare and policy in twentieth-century Europe and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. He also has research interests in European eugenics and racial hygiene, especially in relation to Germany and Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the history of the Nazi 'euthanasia' programme, the killing of mentally and handicapped patients during the Third Reich. He has published widely on the history of medicine during the Third Reich, the history of human experimentation, the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial and the Nuremberg Code, and the history of medical film. His work is embedded in the historiographical tradition of social and political historians, historians of medicine and medical humanities as well as scholars of cultural history and history of science.
Published in 2004, Justice at Nuremberg uses hitherto unpublished archival sources and newly-discovered diaries. The book looks at the role of Allied war crimes investigators such as Leo Alexander in the context of the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial which prosecuted German doctors for their involvement in medical atrocities. In the Nuremberg Code - a landmark in the history of modern medical ethics - the judges laid down for the first time international guidelines for permissible experiments on humans. The book reveals how modern medicine became the subject of greater accountability. It provides powerful insight into the origins of human rights in medical science and into the changing role of international law, ethics and politics, issues which are of great relevance for contemporary biomedical ethics. In two jointly edited volumes on the history and theory of human experimentation, published in 2007, he and Andreas Frewer also examined the origins and influence of the Declaration of Helsinki in an international context.
In 2007, he published Karl Brandt. The Nazi Doctor. Medicine and Power in the Third Reich, the first full-scale biography of Hitler's doctor, one of the most powerful figures of the Third Reich. How was it possible that a rational, highly cultured, young professional could come to be responsible for mass murder and criminal human experiments on a previously unimaginable scale? In this biography, Schmidt explored in detail that Brandt belonged to a generation of a young 'expert élite', who in the 1930s and 1940s were willing, and empowered, to support and conceive an oppressive, militarist and racist government policy, and ultimately turn its exterminatory potential into reality. By introducing the concept of 'detached leadership', the book re-evaluates the system of communication at the centre of Hitler's regime. It extends our understanding of the culture of detachment between a regime that was geared towards total destruction, and a government that was almost totally removed from its people.
In 2015, Professor Schmidt published Secret Science: A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments (Oxford, New York Oxford University Press). The book traces, for the first time, the history of chemical and biological weapons research by the former Allied powers, particularly in Britain, the United States and Canada. It charts the ethical trajectory and culture of military science, from its initial development in response to Germany's first use of chemical weapons in the First World War to the ongoing attempts by the international community to ban these types of weapons once and for all. It asks whether Allied and especially British warfare trials were ethical, safe and justified within the prevailing conditions and values of the time. By doing so, it helps to explain the complex dynamics in top-secret Allied research establishments: the desire and ability of the chemical and biological warfare corps, largely comprised of military officials, scientists and expert civil servants, to construct and identify a never-ending stream of national security threats which served as flexible justification strategies for the allocation of enormous resources to conducting experimental research with some of the most deadly agents known to man. The book offers a nuanced, non-judgemental analysis of the contributions made by servicemen, scientists and civil servants to military research in Britain and elsewhere, not as passive, helpless victims ‘without voices’, or as perpetrators ‘without a conscience’, but as history's actors and agents of their own destiny. As such it also makes an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on the history and culture of memory. The book has recently informed an episode of BBC World Service's Witness on Chemical Weapons Tests at Porton Down.
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