International History and Politics
31 October 2022

Interview with IHP Visiting Fellow Nathalia Gomes

Nathalia Gomez_0


Nathalia Candido Stutz Gomes is a Ph.D. Candidate at the International Relations Institute of the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, where the São Paulo Research Foundation funds her. She is currently visiting the International History and Politics Department at the Geneva Graduate Institute as a junior visiting fellow under a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship. After her period in Geneva, she will undertake a Ph.D. double degree program at the King`s College in London, where she will also stay for a year.


What is your current research focused on?

My research explores the activities of Brazilian public health experts in transnational networks of technicians during the Cold War, particularly between 1955 and 1978. Three World Health Organization (WHO) milestone events anchor the study: the Malaria Eradication Program (1955), the Smallpox Eradication Program (1959), and the Alma-Ata International Conference on Primary Health Care (1978). These programs mobilized experts with multiple conceptions of health, who reacted (sometimes favorably, others in opposition) to the premises and implementation methods applied in technical cooperation projects. Besides shedding light on the role of Brazilian experts in the networks of knowledge of the field, my study aims at explaining the limitations, the potential, and their local and international impacts in debates about world health. In addition, it intends to demonstrate their interplay with counterparts in the WHO and to indicate how some perspectives of health and development were admitted, while others were

Even though literature acknowledges that the Cold War permeated these debates about health and development, my research intends to dialogue with a recent trend of literature about the Latin American Cold War, which emphasizes the importance of addressing actors from the
“Third World” in their own terms instead of looking at them as exclusively determined by the U.S.-USSR rivalry. In this sense, one of the main challenges is to find a balance between considering the role of actors from the Global South, and, at the same time, not disregarding the limitations and power relations imposed by the international context of the time.

What brought you to the Department of International History and Politics at the Institute?

The International History and Politics Department at the Graduate Institute of Geneva (IHPD) is renowned for its interdisciplinary approach, which embraces crosscutting historical issues and thus accommodates a broad set of epistemologies and subjects, while also connecting them to contemporary events. This plurality is critical to my research, which has a strong interdisciplinary component, encompassing issues of International Relations, Global Health, the Global History of the Cold War and mobilization of transnational groups, and the History of Science and Medicine. Thus, the Department is a perfect fit for my ongoing research and it has been providing a unique experience of establishing contacts with an international network of researchers. In addition, I was also interested in Prof. Nicole Bourbonnais’ work, who is supervising me. She has in-depth experience in the study of transnational networks of non-state actors in Latin America and works closely with the interdisciplinary Global Health Centre. Her supervision has offered invaluable contributions to my research and upcoming archival research.

What is the current project you are leading/ working on?

This research is my Ph.D. thesis, which is strongly based on primary sources. During my period in Geneva, I am focused on pursuing archival research at the World Health Organization, collecting materials and analyzing them. The purpose is to identify how ideas of health and development, particularly those pertaining to implementation methods of technical cooperation projects of the field, as well as their processes of adaptation, reception, and their interplay in the realm of public health expertise produced in the so-called “Third World”, particularly Brazil, circulated in transnational epistemic communities within the WHO. Therefore, by the end of my research period in Geneva, I expect to have preliminary results about the involvement (as well as specific limitations) of these technicians within the transnational circulation of knowledge in the field.

What are your plans after this Visiting Fellowship?

After this Visiting Fellowship, I am going to the King’s College of London, where I will spend the 2023-2024 academic year. This new period abroad is part of a partnership between the Institute of International Relations of the University of São Paulo and King’s College of London and offers the opportunity to obtain a double Ph.D. degree from both institutions. Besides engaging with King’s seminars and network of researchers in the field of Cold War, Latin American History, and the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, I will also pursue field research in London, at the Wellcome Foundation and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 2024, I will carry on research in U.S. Archives, particularly in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Library of Medicine at the University of Johns Hopkins.