Conference: Empire, Colonialism, and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective. Toronto, October 28, 2016 *Travel Grants Available

Marta Baziuk Discussion

The Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) announces its conference Empire, Colonialism, and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective, to be held at the University of Toronto on October 28, 2016. Travel grants are available (up to $800.00) to support scholars in deepening their understanding of colonialism and famine through engagement with leading scholars in the field. (Priority will be given to graduate students. Please see the application procedure below and on the HREC website: Note that awardees will be eligible for funding to attend a larger conference on the same topic to be held in Kyiv, Ukraine, in the spring of 2017.)

Presenters will include Peter Gray (Queen’s University, Belfast), on the Irish famine; Janam Mukherje (Ryerson University, Toronto), on the Bengal famine; and Liudmyla Hrynevych (Institute of History, Academy of Sciences, Ukraine), on the Holodomor in Ukraine. Mark von Hagen (Arizona State University) and Andrea Graziosi (Università di Napoli Federico II, Naples) will provide comparative perspectives. The final program is to be determined. HREC is a project of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (University of Alberta).


The Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, known as the Holodomor, has been compared productively with the nearly simultaneous famine in Soviet Kazakhstan as well as with the later Chinese famine and other famines that occurred in communist states.  Following the “imperial turn” in Russian and East European histories, scholars have considered the USSR as an empire (Terry Martin, Yuri Slezkine, Ron Suny, Joerg Baberowski) and raised the prospect of comparing the Soviet with late imperial famines (Mark von Hagen, Liudmyla Hrynevych) and other twentieth-century state forms referred to increasingly as colonial, notably Nazi Germany and its hunger policies in Eastern Europe (e.g., the siege of Leningrad and the starvation of Soviet prisoners of war) (Mark Mazower, Timothy Snyder, Wendy Lower). 

While comparison of the Holodomor with the Irish Gorta Mor has given rise to conferences and publications (Christian Noack, Lindsay Janssen, Vincent Comerford),[1] the approach has yet to be framed within new narratives of colonialism or imperialism. The path-breaking study by Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts,[2] focuses on how the British Empire employed famine to extend the liberal market to its colonies by destroying “basic institutions of the victims.” Building on insights from Karl Polyani’s The Great Transformation,[3] Davis addresses famines in India, China and Africa and sees early parallels in the Irish famine of 1846-48, placing it in the context of Malthusian theories invoked to support constraints to famine relief in India.[4] Stalinist collectivization policies can be understood as a version of the colonial view that segments of humanity are expendable in the building of a greater, imperial civilization. Collectivization was a war waged against the peasantry, resembling a military occupation conducted by Red Army soldiers and veterans, NKVD troops, and militarized party members.[5] 

The decision of Winston Churchill’s wartime British government not to send famine relief to India on “strategic grounds” consigned 1.5 to 4 million Indians to death in 1943. The first book to depict the tragedy, Hungry Bengal, was banned in 1944 (5,000 copies were seized and destroyed),[6] bringing to mind the Stalin regime’s taboo against mentioning its man-made famine, in place until the late 1980s. Amartya Sen, a survivor of the British famine, has asserted that while famines are most often triggered by meteorological or ecological events, the decisive factors nearly always involve political decisions about the distribution of scarce food supplies during wartime or peacetime shortages.  Famine, then, is a drawn-out form of political violence that deprives humans of the fundamental human right to survival.

Empires at times have shown little will to prevent famine, sometimes manipulating food provision as a weapon to control and/or exterminate social classes and “disloyal groups” in order to achieve political goals. The imperial famines have horrifying similarities, including roots in imperialistic governance, the vertical hierarchy of metropolis and colony, and the sacrifice of lives at the “periphery” in the name of the greater good of the empire. The conference series Empire, Colonialism and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective will explore these issues and ways imperial governments have understated or hidden the results of faminogenic policies and the reactions of victims, first and foremost in the anti-colonial, anti-imperial movements in which the experience of man-made famine has served as a powerful awakening factor and motivation for achieving political transformation. 


Travel Grant Application Procedure:

1.  Submit a statement (500-750 words) answering the questions

  • How will your attendance enrich or support you in your research, teaching and/or career?
  • What impact will the study of the Holodomor, empire and famine likely have on your work or career in the short and long term (in terms of publications and teaching, for example)?

2.  Submit a current curriculum vitae/resume.

3.  Submit a letter of support from a professor (if a graduate student) or colleague.

Please submit application by August 16, 2016, via email to with subject line, Conference Travel Grant. Applicants will receive notification of award status by August 23, 2016.


For more information, contact:

Marta Baziuk, Executive Director

Holodomor Research and Education Consortium 

416 923-4732



[1] Holodomor and Gorta Mor: Histories, Memories, and Representations of Famine in Ukraine and Ireland (London: Anthem Press, 2012).

[2] Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (London/New York: Verso, 2002), p. 280.

[3] The Great Transformation (New York/ Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944), p. 10.

[4] Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, pp. 32, 46, 306.

[5] Nonna Tarkhova, Krasnaia Armiia i stalinskaia kollektivizatsiia, 1928-1933 gg. (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2010); Andrea Romano and Nonna Tarkhova, L'Armata Rossa e la collettivizzazione delle campagne nell'URSS, 1928-1933: raccolta di documenti dai Fondi dell'Archivio militare di Stato Russo (Napoli : Istituto universitario orientale, 1996).

[6] Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (New York: Penguin Press, 2012), pp. 141-54.