Save the Children was one of the world’s first self-styled ‘international’ humanitarian organisations. Founded in 1919, it sought to build internationalism via the creation of strong nation states, the promotion of global capitalism and the preservation of the British Empire. Humanitarians saw global stability as being vested in the bodies of the very young. While Save the Children proclaimed a doctrine of universal child rights, it valued children based on their perceived future contribution to global capitalism, and used racial and eugenic criteria to describe this. Told across eighteen counties and 50 years, my book, published in 2021, tells the story of international humanitarianism in the twentieth century, examining the interplay of local welfare practises and international action. In this talk I argue that welfare practises designed for and gathered from European borderlands between the two world wars were exported by aid organisations into the decolonizing British empire after 1945, where they became a central pillar of imperial designs to halt the course of decolonisation. Doing so, I will illuminate the relationship between precarious nationhood and welfare not just in Europe’s borderlands, but the shifting borderlands of empire.
Emily Baughan is Senior Lecturer in 19th/20th Century British History at the University of Sheffield. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Bristol in 2014, and during her postgraduate studies held fellowships at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and the University of Cape Town, and was a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University in New York. Her research places the history of modern Britain within wider international and imperial contexts. She focuses particularly on the history of aid, development, and internationalism in the twentieth century and on connections between international humanitarianism and the British welfare state. She is also interested in the ways history can inform contemporary debates about aid and development.