Corinna Treitel

William Eliot Smith Professor
Chair and Professor of History
Affiliate Professor of Performing Arts
Affiliate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
PhD, Harvard University
MA, Indiana University
BA, Carleton College
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    • MSC 1062-107-114
    • Washington University
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Treitel studies German-speaking Europe since 1800. She teaches courses on European history, world history, and Health Humanities.

    Her research focuses on science, medicine, and popular culture. She has published on everything from occultism and modernism to natural foods, organic farming, and biopolitics. Her current research investigates the puzzle of health consciousness. Health consciousness is that voice in your head that tells you to brush your teeth, exercise, and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. How did it get there? Treitel’s book uses the German case to explore a group of movements—medical enlightenment, popular hygienic education, Lebensreform (life reform), health communication, and wellness—that worked hard over the past 200 years to put it there.

    Treitel enjoys collaborative and transdisciplinary work. In 2015, she helped introduce Medical Humanities as a field of study to her university. Today, she co-leads Science in the Public Square, a transdisciplinary group studying (mis)trust in scientific authority as a recurrent social phenomenon.

    Professor Treitel welcomes applications from graduate students in German and European history as well as in the history of science and medicine.

    Selected Publications


    Eating Nature in Modern Germany: Food, Agriculture and Environment, c. 1870-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

    A Science for the Soul: Occultism and the Genesis of the German Modern (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004)

    Peer-Reviewed Articles and Chapters

    "German Health Narratives between Life Reform and Medical Enlightenment, 1890-1930," Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies (2023), 69-93

    "Nutritional Modernity: The German Case," Osiris 35 (2020), 183-203

    "The Wife as Family Physician: Making and Moving a Health Epistemology for Women," Social History of Medicine (2019), 1188-1210

    "How Vegetarians, Naturopaths, Scientists, and Physicians Unmade the Protein Standard in Modern Germany" in Setting Nutritional Standards: Theory, Politics, Practices, ed. Elizabeth Neswald, David F. Smith, and Ulrike Thoms (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2016), 52-73

    "Artificial or Biological? Nature, Fertilizer, and the Origins of German Organic Agriculture" in New Perspectives on the History of Life Sciences and Agriculture, eds. Denise Phillips and Sharon Kingsland (Cham: Springer, 2015), 183-203

    "Nature and the Nazi Diet," Food and Foodways 17 (2009): 1-20

    "Max Rubner and the Biopolitics of Rational Nutrition," Central European History 41 (2008): 1-25

    "The Culture of Knowledge in the Metropolis of Science: Spiritualism and Liberalism in Fin-de-Siècle Berlin" in Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit in Berlin, 1870-1930/Science for the Public in Berlin, 1870-1930, ed. Constantin Goschler (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000), 127-154.

    Edited Volumes

    Frankenstein at 200: It's Alive! , Special Issue of The Common Reader 10 (Fall 2018)

    In the Media

    Vegetarianism was Part of Social Reformism, Interview with Julia Malitska for Baltic Worlds (June 2022)

    "Triumph of the Till: The Organic Food Movement's Nazi's Past," World Policy Journal (Summer 2018), 83-87

    Eating Organic in Nazi Germany, Hold That Thought Podcast, Washington University in St. Louis  (September 7, 2016)

    Happy Birthday, Frankenstein!, Center for the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis (December 7, 2015)

    Contagion! Back to the Past, Institute for Public Health, Washington University in St. Louis

    Organic Origin Story, Center for the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis (April 23, 2015)


    Fellowships and Grants

    Co-Leader with Talia dan-Cohen, Programmatic Grant on "Science in the Public Square," Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures, Washington University in St. Louis, 2022-2024

    Co-Leader with Sari Altschuler, Exploratory Seminar on "Rethinking Health and the Humanities during / after COVID," Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Harvard University, June 2022

    National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Award, 2011-2012

    Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies Fellowship, Harvard University, 2004-2005


    Health and Disease in World History

    Modern Europe

    The First World War

    Modern European Women

    Modern Germany

    Nazi Germany

    What is Medical Humanities?

    The History of the Body

    Frankenstein: Origins and Afterlives

    Graduate Readings in Modern German History

    Graduate Seminar in Modern European History

    A Science for the Soul

    A Science for the Soul

    In A Science for the Soul, historian Corinna Treitel explores the appeal and significance of German occultism in all its varieties between the 1870s and the 1940s, locating its dynamism in the nation's struggle with modernization and the public's dissatisfaction with scientific materialism. Occultism, Treitel notes, served as a bridge between traditional religious beliefs and the values of an increasingly scientific, secular, and liberal society. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials, Treitel describes the individuals and groups who participated in the occult movement, reconstructs their organizational history, and examines the economic and social factors responsible for their success.

    Eating Nature in Modern Germany: Food, Agriculture and Environment, ca 1870-2000

    Eating Nature in Modern Germany: Food, Agriculture and Environment, ca 1870-2000

    Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian and the Dachau concentration camp had an organic herb garden. Vegetarianism, organic farming, and other such practices have enticed a wide variety of Germans, from socialists, liberals, and radical anti-Semites in the nineteenth century to fascists, communists, and Greens in the twentieth century. Corinna Treitel offers a fascinating new account of how Germans became world leaders in developing more 'natural' ways to eat and farm. Used to conserve nutritional resources with extreme efficiency at times of hunger and to optimize the nation's health at times of nutritional abundance, natural foods and farming belong to the biopolitics of German modernity. Eating Nature in Modern Germany brings together histories of science, medicine, agriculture, the environment, and popular culture to offer the most thorough and historically comprehensive treatment yet of this remarkable story.