Starvation as Experiment and Experience During World War II

Speaker: Dr. Jenny Leigh Smith
Date: 22 January 2019
Time: 2:30pm
Venue: Room 4.04, 4/F Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, The University of Hong Kong.

 seminar posterAbstract:
This talk revisits two classic human starvation experiments that took place during World War II, one at the University of Minnesota and one in the Nazi-occupied Warsaw Ghetto. The two studies were quite different; in Minnesota in 1944 36 male volunteers were placed on calorie restricted diets for six months before being allowed to resume a normal diet. In February of 1942, 28 Jewish doctors and nurses remained in the Warsaw ghetto when it was sealed off by Nazi forces. Correctly predicting the blockade would result in a crisis of malnutrition for the ghetto, the group collected data on the pathology of severe acute malnutrition in children and adults for the six months the blockade lasted, and then smuggled their research out of the ghetto immediately before residents were sent on to extermination camps. These two studies represent the best scientific knowledge produced about the physiological and psychological effects of starvation up to that time. Here I compare the knowledge gained from these two hunger experiments in the context of food scarcity and widespread famine that gripped parts of Europe, South Asia and Southeast Asia during and immediately after World War II.

Jenny Leigh Smith is an Associate Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and technology and an historian of science and technology. She writes about agriculture, food, industrialization and the environmental legacy of development. She is completing a book about 20th Century famines and what they can teach us about 21st Century food security and disaster relief policies.

This event is a Science, Technology and Medicine Seminar organised by the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine.

All Welcome.