When I was a young student in history and philosophy at the University of Geneva, I had never thought that one day I may work for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Yet it happened. While I was preparing my Masters thesis, the protection division at the ICRC was looking for a young historian to carry out a research in their archives. I got hired for a one-year traineeship contract, which was extended by two shorter terms within the relations with the arms carriers unit and at the archives division. This experience was a turning point in my career. As a consequence, I decided to write my PhD dissertation on the history of the ICRC, which was part of a research project dedicated to Switzerland during the First World War. I analyzed the interactions between humanitarian action and neutrality at that time.
In July 2015, during my research, I got the chance to participate in the very first Global Humanitarian Research Academy. This academy played a very positive role for me, as it was an occasion to meet other researchers working on the history of humanitarian action. Our various talks and debates made me think about other practices and ways of studying the past of humanitarian organizations. We shared different perspectives, some close and some more distant from mine, however all of them very interesting and challenging. It also gave me the opportunity to posit my hypotheses and research results to more advanced scholars. They gave good advice that I then used during the writing process of my dissertation. Meeting others PhD students was useful in terms of networking, of course. Beyond that, the excellent atmosphere created during the academy allowed us to maintain amicable contacts, as well. Still today, I regularly exchange with my fellows. At the end, this experience was really rewarding. Continue reading “Why Historians Can Be Valuable Members of the Humanitarian Family”→
What does it mean to belong to the human race? Does this belonging bring with it particular rights as well as responsibilities? What does it mean to act with humanity? These are some of the big questions lying at the heart of a new edited collection from Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin, Humanity: A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present (2016). Based on a 2015 conference at the Leibniz Institute in Mainz, the book, as the title suggests, is not a purely conceptual history of the term ‘humanity’. Rather it looks to discover ‘the concrete implications of theoretical discourses on the concept of humanity’ [page 18]. In other words, how did ideas of ‘humanity’ guide European practices in areas like humanism, imperialism, international law, humanitarianism, and human rights? The editors argue that despite the implied timeless, universal nature of the term, humanity is both a changing, dynamic concept, and has been prone to create divisions as much as it promotes commonality. Although the volume is a study of European conceptions of humanity, the contributions are transnational, displaying how conceptions of humanity were practiced in Europe and in the continent’s interactions with the wider world over the course of five-hundred years. Continue reading “What Does it Mean to Act with Humanity?”→
Ben Holmes History Department, University of Exeter
Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century (2016), edited by Johannes Paulmann (Director of the Leibniz Institute of European History and Professor of Modern History at the University of Mainz), exemplifies the burgeoning field of the history of humanitarianism. In providing historical context to a sector that is often stuck in the ‘perpetual present’, the volume shares a common purpose with a fast-growing body of literature. Specifically, the volume examines 150 years of history to demonstrate that the technical and ethical crises central to modern humanitarianism – such as competition between aid organisations, the tendency of aid to ‘do more harm than good’, and the manipulation of aid by political actors – are not unique to the twenty first century. They have, in fact, ‘been inherent in humanitarian practice for more than a century’ .Continue reading “Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century”→
The year 2015 represents a major anniversary for the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement: 50 years ago, its “Fundamental Principles” have been proclaimed at its XXth International Conference in Vienna. The aim of this conference is to reflect on how these principles have influenced – and been influenced by − the broader humanitarian sector. What can be learnt about the Principles from the rich history of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the wider humanitarian sector, that may in turn provide insights into current realities and act as a guide for the future?