War, Peace and Poverty in the 20th Century

The twentieth century witnessed unprecedented advances in human welfare and unparalleled depths of destructive conflict. Many of the century’s struggles over life and death were defined by the battle against poverty. Poverty lies at the heart of the expansion and destruction of empires; the relations between East and West, and between North and South.

Led by Patricia Clavin (Oxford) and Sunil Amrith (Birkbeck), the project examines this explicitly global story from the perspective of  international organizations – the League of Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, the WHO, the ILO – outwards towards nation-states, local communities and non-governmental actors. The work of Dr Teresa Tomas Rangil (Jesus, Oxford), who is currently researching conflict management in Sub-Saharan Africa, is also supported by the project.

The work of Clavin and Amrith brings together two big narratives of historical scholarship which stand in counter point to one another, but which are usually regarded separately.  The first is the history of international security. This centres on mapping the origins and changing character of war, and the search for an architecture of international relations that will deliver peace and security. Security also has an economic and social dimension. It is the story of state intervention in the national economy, efforts to effect co-ordination in the international economy, and the protection of society viewed in terms of biological protection – the battle for food and the protection from and eradication of infectious diseases.

The second major narrative is that of ‘international development’. This is usually associated with the period after 1945, but which is, in fact, a direct product of ideas and practices developed by the League of Nations and self-styled ‘humanitarian imperialists’ in the British and European Empires.  The research project will bring together emerging literature of the definition of rights, and notions of needs and entitlements that shaped economies and societies.

Woven together for the first time, the project  recovers from the little studied history of international organizations past answers to the central question before the world in the Twenty-First Century: how to recognize and protect the world’s diversity on the one hand, while attempting to improve the quality of life on the other. The security of the world economy, the environment, and the world’s peoples, depends upon the answers found to the same questions posed by international actors in the Twentieth Century.

The project is funded by a generous grant by Tim Sanderson and the Calleva Foundation.