I am a historian of the 20th Century with special interest in the Second World War, children and humanitarianism. Originally from Calgary, Canada, I am currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. I am also a research affiliate with the history department at the University of Glasgow.
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by the Second World War. The massive devastation, the fiery politics, the eloquent speeches, the desperate civilians, the weary soldiers. Throughout my life, and due to a very interdisciplinary education, this interest has expanded to include how governments and NGOs create policies and humanitarian operations to help vulnerable groups, especially children and refugees.
In 2016, I completed my PhD in modern history at the University of Edinburgh. My research explored a lesser-known evacuation of 60,000 French and Belgian children to Switzerland between 1940 to 1945. This humanitarian action was initially implemented by a coalition of Swiss charities but because of its growing popularity and increasing scope, the Swiss Red Cross joined the efforts in 1942. Given the massive diplomatic and material challenges, it is surprising that such a large transnational evacuation for vulnerable, foreign children was generally effective. By evaluating both how these evacuations were conducted and why participating governments sought to assist, my research brought into focus the motivations of governments at war, the value of children in war, and the logistics of humanitarian wartime operations.
I have a number of projects in progress, including a few articles that analyse the more controversial elements of this evacuation (why did the Nazi commanders in Belgium and France authorise this evacuation, for example) as well as a goal to secure funding to interview these children, who will now be in their mid-70s to early 90s. I hope to find a small grant or postdoctoral fellowship in the coming year to travel to Belgium and France to meet these incredible people. By interviewing these “children,” we may begin to understand the considerable upheaval and the vast array of experiences they would have endured – the selection by the Red Cross in their home country, the journey to Switzerland, the three month with their Swiss hosts, the return journey and, of course, the reintegration back into normal home life. Their oral testimony is absolutely essential and will add greater nuance to this remarkable moment in history.
My background is also firmly rooted in communications, especially political persuasion. While studying for my bachelors in Communication Studies at the University of Calgary, I learned a great deal about quantitative data collection, analysis and statistics, but my foundation for studying war and history actually grew out of a keen interest in “rhetoric.” Mass rallies, speeches, and how governments communicate with citizens and soldiers during war strongly sparked my attention.
My Masters thesis examined speeches by Churchill, Hitler and other Nazi officials to better understand the role of rhetoric in the Battle of Britain. My findings were compelling, as they brought attention to the (ir)rationality behind the flowery prose, and how these speeches had major impact upon civilian audiences. In fact, I was so fascinated by the role of morale in war, that during a one-year Masters (MSc) at the University of Edinburgh in 2011, I decided to analyse three morale-monitoring organisations (Mass Observation, the Home Intelligence Division and the Army Morale Committee) to better understand how their methods and tactics tangibly recorded morale in Britain. As you can see, I am highly fascinated by how politicians speak, what they say, and the impact it has upon audiences, especially those caught in the midst of war.
Note: The above picture was taken from the Swiss Federal Archives (CH-BAR J2.15 1969/7 BD116, Belgische Kinder kommen (nach Basel), circa 1942).