In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philanthropy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Debating the Reformation’s Impact
  • Religious Benevolence, Atlantic Integration, and Global Expansion
  • The Rise of Humanitarianism
  • Freemasonry
  • The Social Control Thesis
  • Class Cohesion and Competition
  • Liberalizing Economies, the Enlightenment, and Changing Ideas of Poverty and Charity
  • The Perspective of the Poor
  • The Mixed Economy of Welfare
  • Philanthropy, Nation, and Empire
  • Philanthropy and Involuntary and Constrained Migration
  • Women, Gender, and Philanthropy

Atlantic History Philanthropy
Amanda Moniz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0207


Since the beginnings of European expansion, philanthropy both fostered the integration of the Atlantic world and was in turn shaped by it. First appearing in the 17th century and coming into common usage in English in the 18th century, the word philanthropy, from the Greek for “love of mankind,” referred to a sentiment of concern for humanity’s well-being. The corresponding activity to relieve, better, or reform suffering or disorderly people could be pursued through public measures, the benefactions and activism of individuals, or charitable bodies, Recognizing their interrelated and often mutually constitutive nature, this article encompasses public poor relief, private charity, and reform endeavors. Beginning in the same era as European expansion across the Atlantic, and prompted by similar forces of religious competition and social pressures, European peoples began transforming the personal and reciprocal charity of the medieval era into bureaucratic and global phenomenon it became by the late 19th century. In the early modern era, Europeans sought to make charitable institutions more efficient, and they pursued institutional solutions to social problems such as vagrancy. At the same time, they extended their charitable activity around the Atlantic and beyond by transferring the confraternities that provided welfare to imperial outposts and by founding missionary charities to evangelize religious outsiders and strengthen their empires. A second turning point came in the Age of Democratic Revolution. The development of an Atlantic and then global commercial, liberalizing economy, along with the Enlightenment drive for improvement, caused people on both sides of the Atlantic to think anew about poverty and charity. The same economic developments and the revolutionary forces in the late 18th century led to new moral concern for strangers—people who would formerly have been outside one’s moral responsibility—and made humanitarian activity addressing increasingly targeted problems possible. In addition, by the beginning of the 19th century, women on both sides of the Atlantic were setting up female-run charitable organizations that made women’s activism a new force for integration around the Atlantic.

General Overviews

The following works provide an introduction to the comparative and connective dimensions of philanthropy across time and space. Friedman and McGarvie 2003 and Owen 1964 span several centuries of charitable and reform activity in the thirteen colonies/United States and England, respectively, while Walters 1997 focuses on pre–American Civil War reformers. Cunningham and Innes 1998 offers a transatlantic approach and covers a broad range of charitable activity, while Grell, et al. 1999 and Grell and Cunningham 1997 divide Europe into its northern Protestant and southern Catholic parts, focusing especially on the charitable provision of health care. Many of the essays in Ilchman, et al. 1998 focus on areas outside the Atlantic world, but the volume is helpful for broadening understandings of gift-giving. Bender 1992 introduces a major historical controversy in the study of humanitarianism, the relationship between capitalism and antislavery. Some of the essays in the book can also be found in Davis 1975 and Haskell 1985, both cited under Rise of Humanitarianism.

  • Bender, Thomas, ed. The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

    A collection of seminal essays fiercely debating the relationship between the emergence of antislavery and the rise of capitalism, this volume also explores issues of historical interpretation and evidence.

  • Cunningham, Hugh, and Joanna Innes, eds. Charity, Philanthropy and Reform: From the 1690s to 1850. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998.

    This valuable volume takes a transatlantic approach, although Europe is the focus, and draws connections among charitable endeavors across times.

  • Friedman, Lawrence J., and Mark D. McGarvie, eds. Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    The first overview of American philanthropy in decades, this collection aims to historicize understandings of the shift from personal charity to institutional philanthropy. Essays pay attention to perspectives of race, class, and gender. Particularly useful for nonspecialists.

  • Grell, Ole Peter, and Andrew Cunningham, eds. Health Care and Poor Relief in Protestant Europe, 1500–1700. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

    Exploring developments in health care and poor relief in transnational perspective and emphasizing connections among charitable reformers, this volume calls for renewed inquiry into the impact of the Reformation on poor relief while also emphasizing urban growth and the expanding activity of local and central governments.

  • Grell, Ole Peter, and Andrew Cunningham, with Jon Arrizabalaga, eds. Health Care and Poor Relief in Counter-Reformation Europe. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

    A companion to Grell and Cunningham 1997, this volume stresses the importance of the Catholic religion to changes to the charitable landscape in southern Europe.

  • Ilchman, Warren F., Stanley N. Katz, and Edward L. Queen II, eds. Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

    Sets philanthropy in a global context, with several essays on parts of the Atlantic world. Particularly important for historicizing conceptions of philanthropy are the essays on precolonial African and Native American gift relations.

  • Owen, David. English Philanthropy, 1660–1960. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1964.

    Comprehensive survey of English charity from the emergence of associated philanthropy through the dilemma over how to use charitable resources made obsolete by the development of the welfare state. Remains useful as an encyclopedic resource.

  • Walters, Ronald G. American Reformers, 1815–1860. Rev. ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997.

    A vivid survey of American reformers and their ardent and varied attempts, in causes from abolition, women’s suffrage, temperance, and health, to transform American society.

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