Hunger: A Modern History

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Harvard University Press, 2007 - History - 369 pages

Hunger is as old as history itself. Indeed, it appears to be a timeless and inescapable biological condition. And yet perceptions of hunger and of the hungry have changed over time and differed from place to place. Hunger has a history, which can now be told.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, hunger was viewed as an unavoidable natural phenomenon or as the fault of its lazy and morally flawed victims. By the middle of the twentieth century, a new understanding of hunger had taken root. Across the British Empire and beyond, humanitarian groups, political activists, social reformers, and nutritional scientists established that the hungry were innocent victims of political and economic forces outside their control. Hunger was now seen as a global social problem requiring government intervention in the form of welfare to aid the hungry at home and abroad. James Vernon captures this momentous shift as it occurred in imperial Britain over the past two centuries.

Rigorously researched, Hunger: A Modern History draws together social, cultural, and political history in a novel way, to show us how we came to have a moral, political, and social responsibility toward the hungry. Vernon forcefully reminds us how many perished from hunger in the empire and reveals how their history was intricately connected with the precarious achievements of the welfare state in Britain, as well as with the development of international institutions, such as the United Nations, committed to the conquest of world hunger. All those moved by the plight of the hungry will want to read this compelling book.


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The book is important for the purpose of critical study related to hunger, famines and the politics of representation involved therewith. I am researching on a topic related to journalism and this book proved to be the precise thing I needed to consult. Written in detail and in a systematic manner - the book makes an unconventional read, esp. due to the light shed on historical perspective of hunger and the changes. It might not be a book for leisurely reading of a layman but it certainly has important stuff for any anthropologist, journalists, photojournalist, sociologist and any person involved in academics related to humanities. The book is an example of an extensively worked at thesis, written with the intention of adding to the knowledge of mankind at large.  


Hunger and the Making of the Modern World
The Humanitarian Discovery of Hunger
Hunger as Political Critique
The Science and Calculation of Hunger
Hungry England and Planning for a World of Plenty
Collective Feeding and the Welfare of Society
You Are What You Eat Educating the Citizen as Consumer
Remembering Hunger The Script of British Social Democracy

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About the author (2007)

James Vernon is Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley.

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