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Empire, Colonialism, and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective
Fri, 28 October 2016, 1:00 PM – 5:30 PM EDT
The Empire, Colonialism, and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective conference will bring together presenters on the Irish (Peter Gray, Queen’s University, Belfast), Bengal (Janam Mukherjee, Ryerson University), and Ukrainian (Liudmyla Hrynevych, Academy of Sciences, Ukraine) famines and examine differences and commonalities (Mark von Hagen, Arizona State University, and Andrea Graziosi, Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of University and Research).
Co-sponsored with the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (CERES), University of Toronto.
The Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, known as the Holodomor, has been compared productively with the nearly simultaneous famine in Soviet Kazakhstan as well as with the later Chinese famine and other famines that occurred in communist states. Following the “imperial turn” in Russian and East European histories, scholars have considered the USSR as an empire (Terry Martin, Yuri Slezkine, Ron Suny, Joerg Baberowski) and raised the prospect of comparing the Soviet with late imperial famines (Mark von Hagen, Liudmyla Hrynevych) and other twentieth-century state forms referred to increasingly as colonial, notably Nazi Germany and its hunger policies in Eastern Europe (e.g., the siege of Leningrad and the starvation of Soviet prisoners of war) (Mark Mazower, Timothy Snyder, Wendy Lower).
While comparison of the Holodomor with the Irish Gorta Mor has given rise to conferences and publications (Christian Noack, Lindsay Janssen, Vincent Comerford), the approach has yet to be framed within new narratives ofcolonialism or imperialism. The path-breaking study by Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, focuses on how the British Empire employed famine to extend the liberal market to its colonies by destroying “basic institutions of the victims.” Building on insights from Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, Davis addresses famines in India, China and Africa and sees early parallels in the Irish famine of 1846-48, placing it in the context of Malthusian theories invoked to support constraints to famine relief in India. Stalinist collectivization policies can be understood as a version of the colonial view that segments of humanity are expendable in the building of a greater, imperial civilization. Collectivization was a war waged against the peasantry, resembling a military occupation conducted by Red Army soldiers and veterans, NKVD troops, and militarized party members.
The decision of Winston Churchill’s wartime British government not to send famine relief to India on “strategic grounds” consigned 1.5 to 4 million Indians to death in 1943. The first book to depict the tragedy, Hungry Bengal, was banned in 1944 (5,000 copies were seized and destroyed), bringing to mind the Stalin regime’s taboo against mentioning its man-made famine, in place until the late 1980s. Amartya Sen, a survivor of the British famine, has asserted that while famines are most often triggered by meteorological or ecological events, the decisive factors nearly always involve political decisions about the distribution of scarce food supplies during wartime or peacetime shortages. Famine, then, is a drawn-out form of political violence that deprives humans of the fundamental human right to survival.
Empires at times have shown little will to prevent famine, sometimes manipulating food provision as a weapon to control and/or exterminate social classes and “disloyal groups” in order to achieve political goals. The imperial famines have horrifying similarities, including roots in imperialistic governance, the vertical hierarchy of metropolis and colony, and the sacrifice of lives at the “periphery” in the name of the greater good of the empire. The conference series Empire,Colonialism and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective will explore these issues and ways imperial governments have understated or hidden the results of faminogenic policies and the reactions of victims, first and foremost in the anti-colonial, anti-imperial movements in which the experience of man-made famine has served as a powerful awakening factor and motivation for achieving political transformation.
 Holodomor and Gorta Mor: Histories, Memories, and Representations of Famine in Ukraine and Ireland (London: Anthem Press, 2012).
 Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (London/New York: Verso, 2002), p. 280.
 The Great Transformation (New York/ Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944), p. 10.
 Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, pp. 32, 46, 306.
 Nonna Tarkhova, Krasnaia Armiia i stalinskaia kollektivizatsiia, 1928-1933 gg. (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2010); Andrea Romano and Nonna Tarkhova, L'Armata Rossa e la collettivizzazione delle campagne nell'URSS, 1928-1933: raccolta di documenti dai Fondi dell'Archivio militare di Stato Russo (Napoli : Istituto universitario orientale, 1996).
 Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (New York: Penguin Press, 2012), pp. 141-54.