Tenements, Trenches, and Territories: American International Development Abroad, at Home, and in Between

Friday, January 8, 2010: 10:10 AM
Edward D (Hyatt)
Julia F. Irwin , Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University
From 1917 until 1922, thousands of American nurses, physicians, and social workers traveled to Europe with the American Red Cross (ARC) to carry out relief work for civilians. Emergency war relief was their initial justification, yet volunteers, buoyed by the vibrant U.S. social reform environment, soon escalated their plans. In twenty-five countries, they established public health campaigns, education projects, and other social welfare reform activities. Reconstruction gave way to construction afresh.
When the ARC terminated its European relief activities, these health and welfare volunteers set off in new directions. Many transferred to the Philippines and Puerto Rico, where they applied the methods and philosophies of comprehensive disaster and war relief in an effort to civilize and modernize America’s colonial subjects. Others returned to the United States to enact analogous projects on American Indian reservations – sites of American empire in their own right. By targeting the health and welfare of these populations, the ARC aspired to make these provisional citizens “fit” for inclusion as full members of American democratic society.
ARC volunteers took American progressive ideas and institutions on a whirlwind tour, from the United States to Europe, to U.S. territorial sites, and finally back home. Although health and social science professionals brandished domestic reform techniques and ideals in their efforts to rebuild the world, this paper demonstrates how diverse on-the-ground experiences inevitably altered their approaches. Volunteers then returned to the United States with revised assumptions about the world and the United States’ place in its development. By examining this global transmission in action, my paper calls attention to the ways that American ideas were shaped and reshaped as they moved across oceans, islands, and continents. Such changes, I argue, profoundly influenced the way a generation thought about both its domestic reform and international development initiatives.
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