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Susannah J. Brooks


Susannah J. Brooks

Email: susannah.brooks@pluto.uni-freiburg.de


Doctoral Project:

American Disaster Relief and Development in Republican China

The 1920s were a golden age during which Americans sought to improve Chinese-American relations under the guise of disaster relief. Businessmen, diplomats, missionaries, philanthropists, educators and scientists came together to attack the infrastructural problems they believed were preventing China from modernization and thus economic and political participation in the wider world. The use of disaster relief to change China demonstrated the American belief that they uniquely could fix the world. This story is a transnational history at the nexus between histories of humanitarianism and diplomacy. It adds to a growing body of interwar humanitarian histories and shows that humanitarian action was also about making larger, long-term infrastructural and developmental changes in foreign countries. These strategies in turn impacted political relations between countries. A rich variety of sources including diplomatic communications, personal diaries, institutional records, published relief reports, and historical newspapers and magazines inform the writing of this project. Balancing the “official record” against the more personal and private reflections of these actors unfolds a wider story of propagandist narratives versus the more honest reality of these Americans’ work in China. How did the reported “truth” used in existing histories based on published relief reports differ from the actual importance and impact of these projects in China? What did these Americans hope to achieve in China? What image did they want to present to the world? This research challenges older, less critical histories of American humanitarian relief in 1920s China and answers more current criticisms which center the essential but often ignored role of Chinese relief during these disasters. This project tells a more balanced story of what these Americans wanted in China from their humanitarian relief work and why they invested so much in their efforts.


Research Interest

  • Nineteenth and Twentieth Century U.S. History
  • Humanitarian History
  • History of U.S. Foreign Relations
  • Immigration History


Employment History

  • July 2014 – October 2015
    Research Assistant to Prof. Dr. Sabine Dabringhaus, Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany
  • October 2013 – March 2015
    Teaching Assistant to Dr. Simone M. Müller, Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany
  • October 2013 – June 2014
    Student Assistant at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, Freiburg, Germany
  • October 2012 – September 2013
    Research Assistant to visiting fellow Prof. Dr. John Horne at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies School of History, Freiburg, Germany
  • February 2012 – April 2016
    Freelance English Teacher, Academic Editor (English) and Translator (German to English), Freiburg, Germany
  • January 2009 – May 2010
    Elementary School Teacher, Joseph A. Craig Elementary School, Recovery School District, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA




  • Since March 2016
    PhD, Modern History, Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany
    Maternity Leave: April – October 2016
  • 2012 – 2015
    M.A., Comparative Modern History (Vergleichende Geschichte der Neuzeit), Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany
  • 2009 – 2010
    Teaching Certificate, Elementary Education (Grades K-8), Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Program, The New Teacher Project
  • 2004 – 2007
    B.A. History, Minor in German, The University of Texas at Austin



Scholarships and Research Grants


  • March 2016 - May 2019
    Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DfG, German Research Foundation) PhD Scholarship for "'Silent Armies of Relief and Science': American Disaster Relief and Knowledge Transfer in China during the Interwar Period" 



Seminar and Workshop Papers

  • “Disaster Relief and Development in 1920s China,” Oberseminar with Prof. Dr. Christof Mauch and Dr. Simone M. Müller, Rachel Carson Center at the Studienhaus-Stiftung, Schönwag, 26-28 April 2019.
  • “Rationality versus Compassion: Moving Americans to Aid China in Disaster,” RIAS International PhD Seminar, Middelburg, Netherlands, 2-4 May 2018.
  • “Relief to China: Changing Practices of American Non-Governmental Aid and Development in China in Times of Disaster during the Interwar Period,” 9th Annual Freiburg – Queen Mary Doctoral Colloquium, Freiburg, 24-25 November 2017.





Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Historisches Seminar
Lehrstuhl für Außereuropäische Geschichte
Rempartstraße 15 - KG IV
79085 Freiburg im Breisgau
Deutschland / Germany

KG IV, Room 4337
dienstags, 10:00 - 12:00 Uhr
Tuesdays, 10:00 - 12:00
Research Assistants

KG IV, Room 4306
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