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International or transnational?: humanitarian action during the First World War

Jones, Heather (2009) International or transnational?: humanitarian action during the First World War. European Review of History, 16 (5). pp. 697-713. ISSN 1350-7486

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Identification Number: 10.1080/13507480903262702


To what extent was a nascent international humanitarian sphere challenged by the rise of nationalist aid efforts during the First World War? How did wartime nationalisms influence humanitarian mobilisation? Taking the aid effort to prisoners of war as its central case study, this article contends that the similar evolution of national wartime charities in the different belligerent states was due to a transnational learning process, based on nationalism and reciprocity dynamics, rather than simply a manifestation of a shared culture of international humanitarianism. Comparing similar national aid actors in different countries highlights the fact that the national aid response did not develop solely as a result of 'international' norms, but often on the basis of other motivations, predominantly the desire to help the war effort. This transnational learning process has been identified in some historiographical analysis as evidence for the existence of shared international humanitarian norms within belligerent countries; in fact it is also evidence that certain welfare sectors - for example, registration of the missing and dead, military aid bureaucracies or local scouting or Red Cross associations - evolved similarly in response to the logistical challenges created by total war. This paper contends that the nationalist-orientated evolution of charity at the local level during the war created increasing tensions between the national and international humanitarian spheres and it argues that it is necessary to explore this contested evolution of wartime charity in order to understand the complex nature of wartime mobilisation.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2009 Taylor & Francis Group
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2010 10:47
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:47

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