Dr Mary Elisabeth Cox

Featured Publication
hunger in war peace

Hunger in War and Peace: Women and Children in Germany, 1914-1924

At the outbreak of the First World War, Great Britain quickly took steps to initiate a naval blockade against Germany. In addition to military goods and other contraband, foodstuffs and fertilizer were also added to the list of forbidden exports to Germany. As the grip of the Blockade strengthened, Germans complained that civilians-particularly women and children-were going hungry because of it. The impact of the blockade on non-combatants was especially fraught during the eight month period of the Armistice when the blockade remained in force. Even though fighting had stopped, German civilians wondered how they would go through another winter of hunger. The issue became internationalised as civic leaders across the country wrote books, pamphlets, and articles about their distress, and begged for someone to step in and relieve German women and children with food aid. Their pleas were answered with an outpouring of generosity from across the world. Some have argued, then and since, that these outcries were based on gross exaggerations based more on political need rather than actual want. This book examines what the actual nutritional statuses of women and children in Germany were during and following the War. Mary Cox uses detailed height and weight data for over 600,000 German children to show the true measure of overall deprivation, and to gauge infant recovery.

  • How war impacts health and inequality within societies and families
  • Food security and international aid
  • Using anthropometrics to understand the past
  • The First World War

My current research focuses on the health, hunger, and inequality of civilians during the First World War. My new book Hunger in War & Peace: Women and Children in Germany, 1914 - 1924 was recently published by Oxford University Press (2019) as part of the Oxford Historical Monograph Series. This book assesses the nutritional status of civilians in Germany from 1914-1924 using a variety of original source material including anthropometric measurements from school children, scientific studies, maps, institutional reports, internal international aid documents, personal letters, legal reports, paintings, newspapers, and diaries. I find that deprivation was severe for some civilians in Germany, but that it varied greatly depending on status: age, gender, social class, and even stratum within families impacted how much people suffered during the War. My DPhil dissertation won the Dev Book Prize for the best dissertation in the History of Medicine at Oxford, and was short-listed for the best doctoral dissertation by the Economic History Society. My  article in the Economic History Review (2015) ‘Hunger games: or how the Allied blockade in the First World War deprived German children of nutrition, and Allied food aid subsequently saved them’ was awarded the 2016 Alexander Prize from the Royal Historical Society.  

Along with Dr Claire Morelon and Professor Sir Hew Strachan, I am leading a Leverhulme-Trust funded International Network called ‘Hunger Draws the Map’. This three-year project traces hunger across Europe and the Ottoman Empire from 1914-1922. Our first workshop was held in Oxford in September 2016, our second workshop was held at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives in April 2017, and our final workshop was held in Oxford in May, 2018. Dr Claire Morelon and I are co-editors of the resultant monograph which has an expected publication date of 2020.

I am also interested in the genesis of multinational aid institutions in the early 20th century. Analyses of their successes and failures in changing childhood nutritional trajectories can help elucidate best and worst practices, and how these antecedents have helped determine current practices.

Finally, I have continued interest in the South Pacific and Scandinavia, where I lived with my family for several years as a child.

  • Hunger in War and Peace Women and Children in Germany, 1914-1924

  • Cox, M. E. ‘The Application of Anthropometrics to Identify and Assess War Crimes’ in A Multi-Disciplinary Introduction to War Crimes, Trials, & Investigators. Eds. J. Waterlow and J. Schuhmacher. Palgrave MacMillan. (2017).

  • Hunger games: or how the Allied blockade in the First World War deprived German children of nutrition, and Allied food aid subsequently saved them

  • Indigenous informants or Samoan savants? German translations of Samoan texts in Die Samoa-Inseln

  • More
In the Media

'Hunger in War and Peace.' Podcast with the Oxford Economic and Social History Podcast Series. Available on Anchor.fmApple Podcasts, and Spotify. First aired April 16, 2020

The Forgotten Christmas of 1918’ The New York Times. December 25, 2019.

How Hunger Impacted German Civilians During and After WWI  Top of Mind with Julie Rose. BYU Radio. Aired live September 18, 2019. Rebroadcast December 27, 2019.

World War I German Hunger  Part of The Presidency Series and American History TV Series on C-Span3. Recorded 3 August 2019. First aired 12 October 2019; Last aired 3 June 2020.

'Food' Episode 32 of the British Homefront, 1914-1918 Series with Catriona Oliphant for Chrome Radio. Available on SoundCloud,  Recorded June 23, 2018.

Research on the health of German children during and following the First World War cited in The New Yorker by Adam Hochschild "A Hundred Years After the Armistice."                                                                      https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/05/a-hundred-years-after-the-armistice 

BBC2 Navy's Bloodiest Day

Documentary Film, BBC TWO, 16 June 2016, The Battle of Jutland: The Navy’s Bloodiest Day.