Recuperation, Revival and Survival. Reasons to Develop and Participate in Humanitarian Handicrafts Programmes

  • Wendy Wiertz (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


For centuries philanthropists and charitable organisations have used arts and crafts production in labour-centred orphanages and in workhouses. After the inception of humanitarian aid in the mid-nineteenth century, individuals and organisations implemented this strategy across state borders. In their communication, the organisers of these programmes always stressed the benefits to the recipients of their aid. However, this communication strategy obscured what the agencies themselves hoped to gain from setting up these programmes and what drove their recipients to participate in them.
In this paper, I investigate the motivations of humanitarian organisations and their recipients to respectively develop and participate in handicrafts programmes. The lace scheme, developed to support Belgian lacemakers in the First World War, serves as a case study. The Belgian philanthropic committee Comité de la Dentelle (C.D.) collaborated with the American relief organisation Commission for Relief in Belgium (C.R.B.) to provide the predominantly female lacemakers with the necessary materials to produce fine-quality lace destined for sale in the U.S. and the Allied Countries. Using archival sources collected in the Hoover Institution (Palo Alto, CA, U.S.), the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (West Branch, IA, U.S.) and the National Archives of Belgium (Brussels, Belgium), I demonstrate that each of the involved parties – C.R.B., C.D. and lacemakers – had their own motives to enter the lace aid programme.
Period28 Apr 2021
Event titleJoint Mainz-Oxford-Graduate Workshop: European History across Boundaries
Event typeWorkshop
LocationOnlineShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational