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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
October 2023
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Book description

Feeding the Mind explores how European intellectual life was rebuilt after the cataclysm of the First World War. Learned communities were left in ruins by the conflict and its consequences; cultural and educational sites were destroyed, writers and artists were killed in battle, and tens of thousands of others were displaced. Against the backdrop of an unprecedented post-war humanitarian crisis which threatened millions with starvation and disease, many organisations chose to focus on assisting intellectuals and their institutions, giving them food, medicine and books in order to stabilise European democracies and build a peaceful international order. Drawing on examples from Austria to Russia and Belgium to Serbia, Feeding the Mind analyses the role of humanitarianism in post-conflict reconstruction and explores why ideas and intellectuals were deemed to be worth protecting at a time of widespread crisis. This issue was pertinent in the century that followed and remains so today.


‘In the tumultuous aftermath of the Great War, governments, humanitarian organizations, and philanthropists, driven by their preoccupation with civilizational decline, mobilized both to save intellectuals - identified as a category especially deserving of assistance - and to rebuild institutions of knowledge. This neglected history of ‘intellectual relief’ is the great topic of Tomás Irish’s innovative, and powerful book. His new research should be widely read at a time when intellectual life and cultural heritage are constantly threatened by the many crises of the new millennium.’

Bruno Cabanes - Ohio State University

‘This book reveals how humanitarianism after 1918 was inspired as much by the desire to feed minds as hungry bodies. Middle-class youth is at the heart of an exciting history that binds the reconstruction of Europe with the battle to revive faith in the value of learning and international exchange.’

Patricia Clavin - University of Oxford

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