Home Team Team Anna Derksen

Anna Derksen

Anna Derksen is a researcher specialised in 20th century Nordic and Scandinavian history, disability and eugenics, as well as experiences of welfare and social policy interventions. After studying European Ethnology, Scandinavian Studies and Modern History in Jena and Gothenburg, and a research project on Nordic disability rights activism at Leiden University, she joined the IRTG “Baltic Peripeties” as assistant lecturer. Among her tasks are the consolidation of different academic disciplines and cultures, co-organising courses and events, and supporting (international) PhD researchers. In her current research, she applies a narratological approach to investigate public and media discourses on past eugenic practices in Scandinavia as historical turning points for collective memory, national identity, and welfare state narratives.

University of Greifswald

IRTG Baltic Peripeties
Anklamer Str. 20
17489 Greifswald

Room: 1.12
+49 3834 420 3590
ORCiD: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1618-0379

Department of German Philology

“A Good Home for Whom?” Body Politics and Scandinavian Welfare Narratives (working title)

In 1997, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter made international headlines upon reporting that Swedish doctors between 1934 and 1976 had performed about 60,000 involuntary sterilisations in a government-mandated programme. Although this ‘dark chapter’ in Scandinavian history had long been known to medical professionals and historians, its revelation caused a storm of public outrage that reached far beyond national borders: At its centre stood the experiences of marginalised minority groups, but also established narratives of the Scandinavian welfare state – the “good home for the people”, as Sweden’s former prime minister Per Albin Hansson had phrased it in 1928.

Drawing on narratological theory and the Aristotelian notion of ‘peripety’, I ask how divergent minority experiences may (re)configure collective narratives and self-images of Scandinavian welfare societies. My project does not investigate eugenic and body political interventions themselves, but rather the ex post discourses they generated. These include, among others, public and medial negotiations on state-mandated coercive sterilisations and other medico-eugenic practices, the social experiment on Greenlandic children sent to Denmark for re-education, as well as configurations of ‘race’ and ‘racial biology’ in relation to national minorities.

How and to what extent have these post-eugenic debates provoked critical reflection on the role and legitimacy of the welfare state? Are they indicative of a broader ‘turn’ in Scandinavian self-images? Such accounts, the project argues, may shed light on how the peripety of ‘public discovery’ of eugenic and body political interventions has been perpetuated; creating new – and often ambivalent – historical reference points in Scandinavian memory culture.

Peer-reviewed articles and book chapters

  • “‘To Action for Full Participation and Equality.’ Re-framing International Solidarity in 1980s Nordic Disability Rights Activism,” in Towards Solidarity. The Use and Abuse of Concepts of Compassion, ed. Irène Hermann and Renata Latała [forthcoming].
  • “‘Salaries, Not Benefits!’ Disability Rights Activism and the Right to Work in the Scandinavian Welfare States,” in Disability and Labour in the Twentieth Century. Historical and Comparative Perspectives, ed. Radu Harald Dinu and Staffan Bengtsson. Abingdon: Routledge, 2023, 64-87, https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003316596-4.
  • “The ‘Greenlandization’ of Care: Disability in Postcolonial Greenland, 1950s–1980s,” The Shared Responsibility of Care: Debates over Health and Social Care Provision during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, special issue of European Journal for the History of Medicine and Health, ed. Joris Vandendriessche, Peter Heyrman and Kim Christiaens, 79,2 (2022): 404-435, https://doi.org/10.1163/26667711-bja10021.
  • “‘Eine Aufgabe der gesamten Bevölkerung.’ Behinderung im schwedischen Wohlfahrtsstaat der 1970er und 1980er Jahre,” in Aufbrüche und Barrieren: Behindertenpolitik und Behindertenrecht in Deutschland und Europa seit den 1970er-Jahren, ed. Theresia Degener and Marc von Miquel. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2019, 185-212, https://doi.org/10.1515/9783839443897-009
  • (with Monika Baár) “Das Internationale Jahr der Behinderten 1981 in historischer Perspektive,” in Aufbrüche und Barrieren: Behindertenpolitik und Behindertenrecht in Deutschland und Europa seit den 1970er-Jahren, ed. Theresia Degener and Marc von Miquel. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2019, 161-184 https://doi.org/10.1515/9783839443897-008

Online publications

Exhibition and book reviews

  • Pietikäinen, Petteri and Jesper Vaczy Kragh, eds. Social Class and Mental Illness in Northern Europe, London: Routledge 2019, 228 pp. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews, December 8, 2020, https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55059.
  • Seelow, Atli Magnus. Akzeptiere. Das Buch und seine Geschichte, Erlangen: FAU University Press 2018, 240 pp. H-Soz-Kult, September 3, 2019, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-28224.
  • Torell, Ulrika, Jenny Lee and Roger Qvarsell, eds. Köket. Rum för drömmar, ideal och vardagsliv under det långa 1900-talet, Stockholm: Nordiska Museets Förlag 2018, 351 pp. H-Soz-Kult, June 14, 2019, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-28144.
  • Pleijel, Agneta. Sister and Brother: A Family Story, Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press 2018, 248 pp. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews, October 2, 2018, http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52668.
  • Rud, Søren. Colonialism in Greenland. Tradition, Governance and Legacy, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan 2017, 147 pp. H-Soz-Kult, August 21, 2018, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-27274.
  • Disability History der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Stoll, Jan. Behinderte Anerkennung? Interessenorganisationen von Menschen mit Behinderungen in Westdeutschland seit 1945, Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag 2017, 417 pp. / Schlund, Sebastian. „Behinderung“ überwinden? Organisierter Behindertensport in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1950–1990), Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag 2017, 411 pp. H-Soz-Kult, December 20, 2017, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-25124.
  • Makko, Aryo. Ambassadors of Realpolitik. Sweden, the CSCE, and the Cold War, New York: Berghahn Books 2017, 287 pp. H-Soz-Kult, July 21, 2017, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-25491.
  • Schall, Carly Elizabeth. The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Welfare Machine. Immigration and Social Democracy in Twentieth-Century Sweden, Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2016, 245 pp. H-Soz-Kult, July 18, 2017, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-24024.
  • Disability History: Schenk, Britta-Marie. Behinderung verhindern. Humangenetische Beratungspraxis in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1960er bis 1990er Jahre), Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag 2016, 428 pp. / Lingelbach, Gabriele and Anne Waldschmidt, eds. Kontinuitäten, Zäsuren, Brüche? Lebenslagen von Menschen mit Behinderungen in der deutschen Zeitgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag 2016, 291 pp. H-Soz-Kult, February 3, 2017, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-24301.
  • Elenius, Lars, Hallvard Tjelmeland, Maria Lähteenmäki and Alexey Golubev, eds. The Barents Region. A Transnational History of Subarctic Northern Europe, Oslo: Pax 2015, 518 pp. H-Soz-Kult, March 30, 2016, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-23199.
  • Östlund, Joachim. Saltets pris. Svenska slavar i Nordafrika och handeln i Medelhavet 1650–1770, Lund: Nordic Academic Press 2014, 396 pp. H-Soz-Kult, March 21, 2016, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-23200.
  • Golubev, Alexey and Irina Takala. The Search for a Socialist El Dorado. Finnish Immigration to Soviet Karelia from the United States and Canada in the 1930s, East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press 2014, 236 pp. H-Soz-Kult, May 7, 2015, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-21458.
  • Kent, Neil. The Sámi Peoples of the North. A Social and Cultural History, London: Hurst & Co. 2014, 331 pp. H-Soz-Kult, April 30, 2015, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-21457.
  • Glenthøj, Rasmus and Morten Nordhagen Ottosen. Experiences of War and Nationality in Denmark and Norway, 1807–1815, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2014, 327 pp. H-Soz-Kult, September 2, 2014, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-21459.
  • Byström, Mikael and Pär Frohnert, eds. Reaching a State of Hope. Refugees, Immigrants and the Swedish Welfare State, 1930–2000, Lund: Nordic Academic Press 2013, 368 pp. H-Soz-Kult, March 19, 2014, http://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-20626.

Miscellaneous (conference reports, encyclopaedia entries, multimedia)

  • “Sterilisation und Lobotomie im schwedischen öffentlichen Diskurs der 1990er Jahre,” Netzwerktreffen Geschichte der Bio- und Medizinethik (GBME), Ernst-Haeckel-Haus Jena, April 18-19, 2024.
  • “‘Ausgerechnet hier’: Körperpolitik, Volksgesundheit und Wohlfahrtsnarrative in Schweden und Dänemark,” project presentation at the Forschungsnetzwerk Geschichte der Bio- und Medizinethik (GBME) [online], September 5, 2023.
  • “The Disability Rights Movement in Sweden. Negotiating the ‘Society for All’,” invited lecture in the Communication, Culture and Diversity (CCD) International Seminars, School of Education and Communication, Jönköping University [online], August 28, 2023.
  • “Välfärd under granskning: Förhandlingar om biopolitik och nationella minoriteter i 1990-talets steriliseringsdebatt [Welfare Under Scrutiny: Negotiating Biopolitics and National Minorities in the 1990s Sterilisation Debate],” panel Rasbiologi, eugenik och biopolitik i Sverige: tre projekt [Racial Biology, Eugenics and Biopolitics in Sweden: Three Projects], 9th Svenska historikermötet (SHM), Umeå University, June 14-16, 2023.
  • “A Good Home for Whom? Public Discourses on Past Eugenic Practices as Turning Points for Scandinavian Collective Identities,” 5th annual HEX conference Collective Experiences in History, Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX), Tampere University, March 13-15, 2023.
  • “‘Disability is not only Swedish’: The Nordic Countries and the Formation of Transnational Disability Networks in the 1980s,” NordGlob Retreat, Sigtuna, March 8-10, 2023.
  • “Thresholds of Self-Reflection: Societal Discourses on Scandinavian Eugenic Pasts,” invited panel Imperceptible Thresholds: New Heuristic Approaches (with Alexander Waszynski and Victoria Oertel),  Humanities Institute and ‘Thresholds of Knowledge’ Research Strand, University College Dublin (UCD), November 7, 2022.
  • “A Good Home for Whom? The Eugenic Past as a Commemorative Turning Point for Swedish Welfare Narratives,” Memory Studies Association (MSA) Nordic conference Explorations of Counter-Memory, organised by the Memory Studies Association Nordic in association with the Centre for Studies in Memory and Literature, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, October 13-14, 2022.
  • “‘Here, of All Places’ – Nordic Welfare Narratives and the 1990s Sterilization Debate in Transnational Perspective,” 30th Nordiska historikermötet (NHM) Globalt och lokalt, University of Gothenburg, August 8-11, 2022.
  • “‘We’re Going to Cross the Ice to Greenland’ – Spatial Experiences as Epistemological Turning Points of Scandinavian Body Politics,” 16th biannual conference of the Nordic Association for Literary Research (NorLit) Literature and Space, NTNU Trondheim, June 14-16, 2022.
  • “A Good Home for Whom? Swedish Welfare Narratives and the 1990s Sterilisation Debate,” workshop Narrating Illness and Crises: Social Construction of Roles and Norms, NTNU Trondheim, May 13-14, 2022.
  • “A ‘Turning Point in the Fight for Equality’? Nordic Disability Rights Movements and the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981,” joint lecture series Kairos and Crisis – Turning Points in the Baltic Sea Region, University of Greifswald [online], December 16, 2021.
  • “‘To Action for Full Participation and Equality’: Reframing International Solidarity in 1980s Nordic Disability Rights Activism,” workshop Concepts of Dedication, University of Geneva [online], November 27-28, 2020.
  • “Disability, Nation-Building and Indigenous Identity in Postcolonial Greenland,” 5th workshop for PhD Candidates in Political History (second session) Identities and Politics Throughout History, Association for Political History, European University Institute, Florence, October 17-18, 2019.
  • “‘Your Suffering Will (not) Be Televised.’ Depicting Disability in Norwegian Telethons,” 8th Annual Conference of the European Society for Disability Research (ALTER) Histories, Practices and Policies of Disability. International, Comparative and Transdisciplinary Perspectives, University of Cologne, September 5-6, 2019.
  • “The Nordic Disability Movements and Experiences of Charity and Welfare in the Mid-20th Century,” conference Experiences of Dis/ability from the Late Middle Ages to the Mid-Twentieth Century, Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX), Tampere University, August 21-23, 2019.
  • “Taking Their Rightful Place in Society? Swedish Development Projects and Disability in Asia,” 11th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), Leiden University, July 16-19, 2019.
  • “Arctic Welfare, Danish Norms? The Transition of Disability Care in Postcolonial Greenland,” conference The Shared Responsibility of Care. Historical Debates on Health and Social Care Provision during the 19th and 20th Centuries, KADOC, KU Leuven, June 3-4, 2019.
  • “Disability and National Belonging in Post-Colonial Greenland,” conference Criptic Identities. Historicizing the Identity Formation of Persons with Disabilities across the Globe, ERC Rethinking Disability, Leiden University, March 21-22, 2019.
  • “‘Die Zeit der Mildtätigkeit ist vorbei!’ Behindertenaktivismus und das Recht auf Arbeit im schwedischen Wohlfahrtsstaat,” invited lecture at the Kolloquium zur Geschichte der Neuzeit, Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel, January 29, 2019.
  • “How Did Disability Become a Global Concern?,” talk at the Studium Generale series Global Challenges, Leiden University / Campus The Hague, December 12, 2018.
  • “Views from West Europe: Interdisciplinary Studies of Disability,” roundtable discussion at the Cleveringa Conference Interdisciplinary Approaches to Disability: The MENA Region in the Modern Period, ERC Rethinking Disability at Leiden University, Embassy of the Netherlands in Cairo, Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo, Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo, Cairo, November 25-26, 2018.
  • Participation in the history festival War or Peace: Crossroads of History 1918 / 2018 with the workshop Good Peace : Bad Peace. Balancing Self-Determination and Realpolitik, Federal Agency for Civic Education (BPB), Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, October 17-21, 2018.
  • “Disability on the Global Stage. The Nordic Countries and the Formation of Transnational Disability Networks in the 1980s,” 16th international summer school Imaginations, Construction and Staging of Space in Global Processes, Graduate School Global and Area Studies, Graduate Centre Humanities and Social Science of the Research Academy Leipzig, University of Leipzig, June 11-14, 2018.
  • “From Domestic Frictions to International Strategies: The Nordic Countries and the Promotion of Disability Rights at the United Nations,” workshop Historians Without Borders. Writing Histories of International Organizations, ERC Rethinking Disability, Leiden University, March 22-23, 2018.
  • “Full Participation and Equality? Nordic Perceptions of Disability around the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981),” 2nd Nordic Challenges Conference Narratives of Uniformity and Diversity, Centre for Nordic Studies (CENS), University of Helsinki, March 7-9, 2018.
  • “Rethinking Disability – The Nordic Welfare States’ Impact on the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) at Local, Regional and Global Levels,” re:work international summer academy Labour, Rights, and Mobility, IGK Work & Human Lifecycle in Global History at Humboldt University of Berlin/re:work, National University of San Martín (UNSAM), Buenos Aires, October 29 – November 5, 2017.
  • “The Struggle for Disability Rights in a Development Context. Entanglements and Exchanges between Scandinavia and the Global South in the 1980s,” conference Social Policies and the Welfare State in the Global South in the 19th and 20th Centuries, History Department, Research Center on Inequality and Social Policy (SOCIUM), University of Bremen, September 13-15, 2017.
  • “The Disabled Body, Citizenship and Social Belonging. The International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) and Its Impact on Welfare Policies and Civil Rights Debates in the Nordic Countries,” European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH) biennial conference The Body Politic: States in the History of Medicine and Health, Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Bucharest, August 30 – September 2, 2017.
  • “The First UN Development Decade (1961-70) and the Shaping of an International Aid System,” conference ‘Calendar Propaganda’ of Human Rights? Historical Perspectives on the United Nations’ Global Observances, ERC Rethinking Disability, Leiden University / Campus The Hague, June 14-16, 2017.
  • “Vom Patienten zum Mitbürger – Menschen mit Behinderungen in Schweden,” invited lecture at the Internationale Woche Der Umgang mit Behinderung in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Evangelische Hochschule Berlin, May 18, 2017.
  • “‘Full Participation and Equality’? Disabled Persons in the Swedish Welfare Society and International Development Projects,” GHCC 10th anniversary conference Global Inequality – A Divided History, Global History and Culture Centre (GHCC), University of Warwick, April 19-21, 2017.
  • “Vom Patienten zum Mitbürger – Behindertenrechte im schwedischen Wohlfahrtsstaat,” conference Aufbrüche und Barrieren: Geschichte der Behindertenpolitik und des Behindertenrechts seit den 1970er Jahren, Bochumer Zentrum für Disability Studies (BODYS), Katholische Akademie Schwerte, Dokumentations- und Forschungsstelle der Sozialversicherungsträger at the Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur Mainz, Lehrstuhl für Sozial- und Gesundheitsrecht and Recht auf Rehabilitation und Behinderung at Universität Kassel, Schwerte, March 13-14, 2017.
  • “Rethinking Disability: The Nordic Welfare States’ Impact on the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) at Local, Regional and Global Levels,” junior workshop at the international conference The Healthy Self as Body Capital: Individuals, Market-Based Societies, Body Politics and Visual Media Twentieth Century Europe, ERC BodyCapital, University of Strasbourg, February 23-27, 2017.
  • Participation in the 4th Disability Mundus doctoral school Making Disability, Uppsala University, June 26-29, 2016.
  • Participation in the 8th NordWel international summer school State, Society and Citizen – Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Welfare State Development, Centre for Welfare State Research, University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Odense, June 6-10, 2016.

Professional background

  • Since 04/2021
  • Assistant Lecturer in the IRTG “Baltic Peripeties. Narratives of Reformations, Revolutions and Catastrophes” at the University of Greifswald.
  • Since 06/2020
  • Editor for Northern European History at H-Soz-Kult – Communication and Information Services for Historians.
  • 09/2014 – 02/2016
  • Academic Trainee in Cultural Management and Public Relations, Cultural Department of the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL), Münster.
  • 09/2012 – 08/2014
  • Author for encyclopedia entries in Jena: Lexikon zur Stadtgeschichte, ed. Rüdiger Stutz and Mathias Mieth. Berching: Tümmel Verlag, 2018.
  • 08/2013 – 11/2013
  • Student Assistant at the International Office, Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

University studies and degrees

  • 03/2020 – 02/2024
  • Doctoral Researcher (external) at the Institute for History, Leiden University.
  • 03/2016 – 02/2020
  • Doctoral Researcher in the ERC-project “Rethinking Disability. The Global Impact of the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) in Historical Perspective” at the Institute for History, Leiden University.
  • 04/2012 – 03/2014
  • M.A. in Modern History, Friedrich Schiller University Jena.
  • 08/2010 – 06/2011
  • Erasmus exchange in Scandinavian Studies and Global Studies, University of Gothenburg.
  • 10/2008 – 03/2012
  • B.A. in Cultural Anthropology / Cultural History (major) and Political Science (minor), Friedrich Schiller University Jena.


  • Winter 2021/22
  • Proseminar “Durchbruch der Moderne – Nordeuropa um 1900,” Nordic History, University of Greifswald.
  • Spring 2019
  • Seminar “From Cradle to Grave: Charity, Health and Welfare in Europe and America since the Late 19th Century,” Institute for History, Leiden University.
  • Spring 2018
  • Seminar “Welfare and Health Policies in Europe and America in the 20th Century,” Institute for History, Leiden University.
  • Spring 2017
  • (assistant teaching, with Irial Glynn) Seminar “Anti-Immigration since the Late 19th Century,” Institute for History, Leiden University.

Academic memberships

Editor for Northern European History at H-Soz-Kult
Association for Political History (APH)
Disability History Association (DHA)
European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH)
Network for Global History in the Nordic Countries (NordGlob)
Forschungsnetzwerk Geschichte der Bio- und Medizinethik (GBME)