Creating and Repeating History. Lace-Aid Programmes in the First World War

  • Wendy Wiertz (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Recent histories of humanitarianism, particularly American philanthropy, argue that the First World War was a turning point in the development of modern humanitarianism. They stress how aid to other humans across national borders transformed in the war years into a modern, technical, transnational and secular endeavour. Yet, these histories are often limited to the analysis of food and medical assistance. They do not usually engage with the idea of (gendered) labour, nor with the long tradition of craft-based philanthropy for women in orphanages and workhouses. In my paper, I will argue that aid in the war years was characterised by a mixture of modern humanitarianism and traditional philanthropy.
As a case study serve lace-aid programmes that were developed to save the Belgian lace industry during the First World War. The goal of these programmes was to preserve an important part of Belgium’s cultural heritage and to ensure the wartime employment of lacemakers in German-occupied Belgium and of Belgian refugees in Holland, France and the United Kingdom. Newly-discovered institutional archives across the U.S. and Western-Europe are used to reconstruct the organisation of the programme on a local, national and transnational level. They were also consulted to investigate the aims of the programme itself, revealing the involved organisations’ politics on the social and gendered order. The results will demonstrate how history in changing times was both created and repeated.
Period13 Jul 202215 Jul 2022
Event titleVoluntary Action History Society 7th International Conference: Voluntary Action in Changing Times: Creating History or Repeating It?
Event typeConference
Conference number7
LocationLiverpool, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational