By Emma Poole
As a sophomore, I came across a photo of American Relief Administration workers handing out food to Russian children from the Winter Palace while in a class on World War I and World War II, and became fascinated. Thus, when I had the opportunity to elect a topic to investigate for my senior essay in History, Herbert Hoover and the American Relief Administration’s Russian Operation, a food aid program that lasted from 1921 until 1923 and which, its height, fed 10 million Russians daily, felt like a natural choice. In particular, I intended to examine the effects of the Russian Operation on Soviet sovereignty, or rather, the supreme and independent authority of a state. While, at first, I set out in the hopes of interrogating the intent behind the Operation, it soon became clear that a more intriguing pursuit was not to debate whether or not political aims underlay what seemed to be a demonstration of unprecedented humanitarianism but, instead, to parse precisely how Hoover and the ARA accomplished their political goals.
It was in search of the answer to this question that I arrived at the Hoover Institution Archive in early October last fall. With the invaluable help of the Hoover staff, I found my way to the ARA Russian Operation Archive, and was able to spend three full days immersed in the rhetoric I had been reading about second hand. In particular, I must thank Carol Leadenham for all of her help and, after being so kind as to listen to me explain my argument, for suggesting that I look into the Food Remittance Program, a supplementary program administered by the ARA that allowed relatives and individuals in the West to send boxes of food to individuals or groups in Russia. It was in circulars advertising and explaining the Remittance Program, as well as in other related documents, that I found some of my most convincing material – few things are as persuasive as being able to witness a rhetorical argument attempting to persuade on its original printed page. Thanks to the material at the Hoover Institution, my argument took on a concrete, tangible aspect that, I would like to think, made it both stronger and more accessible.
I am extremely grateful for all the help afforded to me by the entire Hoover staff, both during my time in the Archive and remotely, as I asked questions over email from the other side of the country as my deadline approached. I could not have been luckier to have had the opportunity to research my projects in such a rich archive and under the guidance of such knowledgeable archivists. It was while looking at microfilm there that I first felt like a real historian, and for that I will always be grateful.
Emma Poole is an undergraduate history student at Yale University. Her senior thesis "Feeding Hearts and Minds: Herbert Hoover, the American Relief Administration's Russian Operation, and the Rhetoric of Relief" is based on research at Hoover Archives.