Research

I am a global historian of the 20th century. I am particularly interested in international institutions like the United Nations and transnational organizations campaigning for specific political agendas in a global space. It is important to understand these institutions and the people and discourses operating in these spaces as they became increasingly relevant for shaping global policies. At the same time, I am interested in the relationship between global institutions and nation states, which remained key entities in the 20th century. I analyze how specific resolutions and sets of policies were translated from an international space into the frameworks of nation states. In my research, I combine archival research with digital humanities methods.

Selected research projects

Human Rights and Population Control. The Fight Against Overpopulation as a Humanitarian Mission, 1940–1995 (PhD thesis)
My PhD thesis discusses the global attempts of reducing fertility rates in the context of the perceived threat of overpopulation. It argues that framing population control policies in a language of humanitarianism and human rights was key for their success in a global geopolitical setting that was shaped by decolonization and Cold War conflicts. For the first time, the thesis offers a comprehensive analysis of the humanitarian frameworks employed by population control advocates to advance their agenda within the United Nations and to build global alliances of states. It is based on sources of the United Nations, two NGOs (the Population Council and the International Planned Parenthood Federation) and discusses four country-examples to show how national protagonists advanced domestic policies by referring to global discourses and international resolutions (Ireland, India, USA, Yugoslavia). The thesis touches on wider questions of the role of humanitarianism and human rights for foreign policies, the significance of transnational organizations in setting global agendas, the relationships between international institutions, global discourses and nation states, and the conflicts between individual rights and the role of states as guarantors of public welfare and goods.

Between Activism and Diplomacy. Eleanor Roosevelt and International Human Rights, 1936–1962 (completed 2017)
Eleanor Roosevelt was the first chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, serving from 1946 to 1953. In this research project, I discuss her role for international human rights debates by analyzing her newspaper columns written between 1936 and 1962. The 7,996 columns were analyzed by using methods of digital text analysis. Further, I selected a total of about 2,000 columns for close reading. I show that Roosevelts positions on contested questions of international human rights policies in the 1940s and 1950s reflected US State Department priorities. She argued in favor of the non-binding character of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and defended US policies against critiques from the Soviet Union. Further, in contrast to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, she remained sceptical of defining specific human rights for women.

Simultaneity of Inclusion and Exclusion: Homosexualities between Prosecution and Normalization in Austria in 1971 (together with Barbara Kraml, completed 2016)
In Austria, sexual acts between people of the same gender were illegal until 1971. Although a parliamentary majority was in favor of decriminalization from the mid 1960s onwards, criminal courts still prosecuted homosexual men and women up to the day the legislation was passed. In this research project, we argue that decriminalization reflected a process of normalization of homosexualities. While this meant legalisation of the sexual act itself, other practices were outlawed, like “advertising” homosexuality or campaigning for LGBT issues. Further, we analyzed court cases from the Viennese Criminal Court in 1971 to understand why police brought the sexual behaviour of 106 men and women to the attention of the prosecution.