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‘Heritages of Hunger’

A successful transnational project

Heritages of Hunger

Wars and occupation are not infrequently accompanied by hunger and starvation. Just think of the 'Hunger Winter' in the western Netherlands at the end of World War II or the gripping descriptions in Guillaume Jacquemyns' La Société belge sous l'occupation allemande of permanent food shortages, hunger and its mental impact during WWII in Belgium. The phenomenon of hunger is much broader and can also arise in non-war related contexts. Not infrequently, political-social decisions and mechanisms lie at its origin and persistence. In early April, the Dutch project Heritages of Hunger held a conference in Toronto where various aspects of hunger and the memory of hunger were discussed, the phenomenon was placed in a broad scientific and social perspective and much attention was paid to the way in which individuals and societies tried to cope with hunger.

The Heritages of Hunger project is a collaboration between Radboud University, Wageningen University and NIOD and is funded by NWO, the Dutch fund for scientific research. The transnational project studies hunger in the 19th and 20th centuries and its memory in the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Spain and Ukraine. Canada also receives a lot of attention because emigration to that country was seen as an opportunity to escape hunger.

Research and memory

The project has already produced several publications and the dissertations to come out of it are well advanced, even though the start-up phase of the project coincided with the Corona pandemic and lock-downs in several countries which did not facilitate the work at all. The war in Ukraine hindered the planned fieldwork there. Preliminary results were presented earlier at conferences in Nijmegen and Amsterdam, where aspects of research and memory were always combined and links made with museums.

This was also the case at the April conference. Besides visits to a memorial, an exhibition and film screenings, new research was presented, for example that of Ingrid de Zwarte on the meaning of hunger in the decolonization of Indonesia, and international specialists discussed the general mechanisms and patterns underlying hunger crises, linking them to international current events.

A new virtual exhibition

The conference was also the opportunity to launch a new virtual exhibition. The exhibition uses the results of the research and the material collected during the project to explain and clarify to a wide audience the phenomena of hunger and famine. This is done by means of a number of statements/questions that give the visitor to the exhibition deeper and deeper understanding and context. Although the focus is predominantly European, the virtual exhibition was conceived in a way that the examples offer a more global and transnational view of hunger and famine by revealing underlying mechanisms and patterns of response.

The still ongoing time of the project will be used to finalize dissertations and further complete a number of productions. We can already confirm that, thanks to its transnational approach, this project offers the right framework for integrating national research on hunger and famine.