School of History

Human Experiments & Human Rights during the Cold War - HI6061

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Convenor 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Canterbury Autumn and Spring Higher
Higher level module taken in stages 2 and 3 of an undergraduate degree
60 (30) Prof U I D Schmidt inactive active inactive

The information below applies to the 2015-16 session


This Special Subject examines the history of human rights in human experimentation during the Cold War, and traces the development of biological and chemical warfare research from the Second World War through to Allied military research in the 1950s and 1960s. It charts continuity and change in the development of medical ethics standards in modern military research on humans, and assesses the extent to which research subjects were informed of the risks involved in the research.

The module explores Allied war-time research and the international response to news of Nazi medical atrocities. The Nuremberg Medical Trial and the Nuremberg Code are important milestones in the history of informed consent and modern medical ethics. The module looks at the nuclear testing programme that was conducted by the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1950s, and investigates in detail the evolving chemical warfare programme at Porton Down in the United Kingdom where one of the servicemen, Ronald Maddison, died from exposure to the nerve agent sarin in 1953.

The history of research into incapacitants and biological warfare agents is located into a wider context of an evolving system of medical ethics in which non-therapeutic experiments without consent were increasingly seen as unethical and unlawful. Finally, the attempts by veteran groups for recognition and compensation will be examined as part of a wider political history of the Cold War which has shaped our understanding and memory of the more recent past.


Method of assessment

The module will be assessed by coursework and exam on a 40% coursework and 60% exam ratio. The coursework component will be assessed as follows: 1) 2 x 5,000 word essays, each worth 30% of the coursework mark. 2) 1 x 30-40 minute in-class presentation, worth 20% of the coursework mark. 3) 1 x in-class test (of around 2,000 words), worth 20% of the coursework mark. The exam component will be assessed through in 2 x two–hour exams – which will make up 60% (30% each) of the final mark for the module.

Preliminary reading

  • • D. Avery. (2013) Pathogens for War. Toronto: Toronto University Press • B. Balmer. (2001) Britain and Biological Warfare. Basingstoke: Palgrave • B. Balmer. (2012) Secrecy and Science. Farnham: Ashgate • R. Cooter, M. Harrison, S. Sturdy. (1999) Medicine and Modern Warfare. Amsterdam: Rodopi • M. Gross & D. Carrick. (2012) Military Medical Ethics. Farnham: Ashgate • P.M. Hammond & G.B. Carter. (2002) From Biological Warfare to Healthcare. Basingstoke: Palgrave • J.D. Moreno. (1999). Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans. New York: Routledge • J.D. Moreno. Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defence. New York: Dana Press • U. Schmidt & A. Frewer (eds.). (2007) History and Theory of Human Experimentation. London: Steiner • U. Schmidt. (2004) Justice at Nuremberg. Basingstoke: Palgrave • U. Tröhler & S. Reiter-Theil (eds.). (1998) Ethics Codes in Medicine. Aldershot: Ashgate • J.B. Tucker. (2006) War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda. New York: Doubleday • M. Wheelis et al. (eds.). (2006) Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons since 1945. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Learning outcomes


No pre-requisites

School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX

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Last Updated: 10/11/2011