Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History

First Advisor

Kathy Peiss

Abstract

Between celebrity spokesmen and late night informercials, international humanitarian aid organizations use multiple media strategies to generate public interest in their programs. Though this humanitarian media has seemingly proliferated in the past thirty years, these publicity campaigns are no recent phenomenon but one that emerged from the World War I era. "Lest They Perish" is a case study of the modernization of international humanitarian media in the U.S. during and after the Armenian genocide from 1915 to 1925. This study concerns the Near East Relief, an international humanitarian organization that raised and contributed over $100,000,000 in aid to the Armenians during these years of violence. As war raged throughout Europe and Western Asia, American governmental propagandists kept the public invested in the action overseas. Private philanthropies were using similar techniques aimed at enveloping prospective donors in "whirlwind campaigns" to raise funds. The Near East Relief was among the earliest philanthropic organizations to undertake these publicity blitzes. After Armistice, the NER established relief operations that dispensed humanitarian services in cities throughout Asia Minor. It is in this latter period that the media appeal for humanitarian aid for witnessing publics solidified into a consumer-centered model of advertising. From the NER's earliest fundraisers, images were crucial tools that bridged the distance between the spectators--the prospective donors--and the sufferers. Images of starving children were used to power philanthropic giving. Rather than focus on the reception of these images, the project is concerned with the production of this media and vehicles for its message. This perspective reveals considerable overlap between advocacy campaigns and the actual relief work. The dissertation finally reflects on the emerging role of private enterprise in sponsoring humanitarian relief. By this point, the rise of public relations had turned donors into consumers and Armenians into their objects of pity.

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