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Anelise Hanson Shrout: The Great Irish Famine and the origins of transnational philanthropy


In this episode we talk to historian Anelise Hanson Shrout about her fascinating new book Aiding Ireland: The Great Famine and the rise of transnational philanthropy.


  • Was the global philanthropic response to the Irish famine unprecedented at that point?
  • Is the response best explained by the fact the famine was able to act as an “empty signifier” which allowed a wide range of groups to interpret the situation according to their own worldview and to imbue their giving with different meaning?
  • Is this something we still see in transnational philanthropy today?
  • To what extent did the severity of the famine shift emphasis onto more immediate pragmatic responses and away from radical calls for political reform?
  • Was support for Irish famine relief in England driven by genuine concern for the plight of the Irish or by fears of mass migration to English cities?
  • How important in the debates about famine relief was the distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” recipients?
  • To what extent did the Irish Famine lead the US to consider responsibilities to the wider world? Was this sense of globalism/humanitarianism new at this point?
  •  How did both enslaved people and slave owners in the US respond to the Irish famine?
  • Were there debates at the time about the ethics of accepting donations from slave owners, or did the severity of the famine force people into adopting a purely pragmatic approach?
  • Did the Irish famine prove particularly useful to slaveowners as a means of demonstrating their own humanity and moral worth through philanthropy?
  •  How did some enslaved people use philanthropic donations towards famine relief in Ireland to assert their own agency and humanity?
  • Should this be understood solely as a political act of “philanthropy-as-resistance”, or was there some element of empathy or solidarity in it?
  • How was the news of donations by enslaved people greeted by slaveowners and by white Americans more broadly? Did they try to ignore it, or interpret it according to their own worldviews (and if so, how?)
  • How should we understand the gifts made by people from the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations to Irish famine relief?


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