The Afterlife of an Intersectional Famine: Gender, Nature, and Death in World War I Mount Lebanon
When famine struck Mount Lebanon between 1915 and 1918, an array of factors mediated the population’s suffering. Although World War I is conventionally remembered as a shared national trauma, wartime conditions exacerbated social and gender inequalities. This paper uses an intersectional framework that disaggregates the national experience of the war with a particular focus on the experience of women.
Only at the intersection of environmental and socioeconomic realities can we account for the complexities of the war. Women lived and died according to biological realities (female bodies are more resistant to famine than males) and their relationship with their means of social reproduction. Contingency also played a role: a woman’s choices, her agency, determined outcomes for her and her family during the war in addition to structural factors. An unprecedented number of women became the primary breadwinner for their family unit. Sex work was a common strategy for survival. That fact has been read subsequently as a stain on the national honor. Rarely has it been read as the expression of class conflict.
This re-reading of the famine and its afterlife suggests a new vision for the history of modern Lebanon. To date, scholars have not fully appreciated the implications of mass death among the working classes during World War I as part and parcel to broader legacies of oppression in Lebanese history. This analysis places the intersectional dynamics of injustice at the center of its analysis. Research in published sources as well as French, Lebanese, Ottoman, and U.S. archives informs this paper.
Graham Auman Pitts holds a doctorate in history and is currently the American Druze Foundation Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. He is preparing a book manuscript on war and the environment in twentieth-century Lebanon.
Keywords: famine, war, gender, sex work, social reproduction, mass death, population’s suffering, environment