‘Making good’ in the Near East
The Smith College Relief Unit, Near East Relief and visions of Armenian reconstruction, 1919–21
in Aid to Armenia
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In 1919, Smith College – a liberal women’s college in Massachusetts – seconded five of its graduates to Near East Relief’s humanitarian operations in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Once they arrived, the five joined different relief parties and were spread widely throughout Near East Relief’s theatre of operations for the next eighteen months – from the Caucasus to Aleppo, and doing everything from clerical work, to running orphanages and rescue homes, and managing a medical lab. The Smith girls’ correspondence and photograph albums thus give us a rich, bottom-up view of many different fields and facets of NER’s relief operations. This chapter uses the previously unexplored archive of the ‘Smith Unit’ to provide the beginnings of a social history of NER relief workers and relief practices. It focuses on the varying humanitarian visions of NER policy-makers and their different types of relief worker, and the ensuing contestations, collaborations and innovations in practice on the ground. The discussion is framed within debates over the history of relief in Ottoman and post-Ottoman lands, the gendered politics of relief, and the transition from the ‘civilising mission’ to ‘modern’ humanitarianism after the First World War.

Aid to Armenia

Humanitarianism and intervention from the 1890s to the present

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