Old Man in A Hurry

Richard Toye
Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History

Felix Klos, Churchill’s Last Stand: The Struggle to Unite Europe (I.B.Tauris, 2017)

Marco Duranti, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity, Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention (Oxford University Press, 2017)

In the run-up to 2016 Brexit referendum, advocates of staying in the EU made significant efforts to invoke the memory of Winston Churchill. Remainers pointed to the fact that, in Zurich in 1946, he had urged the creation of ‘a kind of United States of Europe’. They seemed to regard him as something of a trump card – if Britain’s iconic wartime leader had been one of the fathers of the EU, who would dare to be against? However, as a persuasive tool, it never quite seemed to work. On the one hand, Leavers could legitimately point out that Churchill had said that Great Britain should be one of the ‘the friends and sponsors of the new Europe’, not one of its actual members. On the other hand, the message was just not quite simple enough; against the ingrained, popular bulldog image, it was tough to sell Churchill as a complex figure who was prepared to make concessions on British sovereignty in the interests of future peace.

It also didn’t help that Churchill’s pro-European campaign took place during a period of his life – the 1945-51 Opposition years – that few members of the public know much about. Popular memory of Churchill focuses to some extent on the 1930s but above all on the war years, and the summer of 1940 in particular. In fact, then, the referendum campaign’s most rhetorically effective invocation of Churchill was made by David Cameron during his appearance on Question Time. He did not attempt to argue that Churchill would have favoured membership of the EU as such, but rather – in response to an audience member who described him (Cameron) as a Twenty First Century Neville Chamberlain – he deployed a more emotionally powerful response:

At my office I sit two yards away from cabinet room where Winston Churchill decided in May to fight on against Hitler. The best and greatest decision perhaps anyone has made in our country. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to be fighting with the French, the Poles and the others. But he didn’t quit. He didn’t quit on democracy, he didn’t quit on freedom.

We want to fight for those things today. You can’t win if you’re not in the room.

Moreover, when one actually looks at the details of Churchill’s position on Europe, it’s not clear that he fits neatly into either the Leave or the Remain narrative. The two books under review, both excellent in their different ways, illustrate the point. Continue reading “Old Man in A Hurry”

Second Global Humanitarianism Research Academy, 10-22 July 2016

Fabian Klose
Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz 
Beginning JulyUnbenannt 10, the second Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) will  meet for one week of academic training at the University of Exeter before continuing with archival research at the ICRC Archives in Geneva. The Research Academy addresses early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianisminternational humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies as well as human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century. It supports scholarship on the ideas and practices of humanitarianism in the context of international, imperial and global history thus advancing our understanding of global governance in humanitarian crises of the present.

The GHRA received again a huge amount of applications from an extremely talented group of scholars from more than sixteen different countries around the world. The selection committee considered each proposal very carefully and has selected these participants for the GHRA 2016:

Continue reading “Second Global Humanitarianism Research Academy, 10-22 July 2016”

Global Humanitarianism Research Academy 2015 – Week 1

Andrew Thompson

Cross-posted from Humanitarianism & Human Rights

After the first part the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) 2015 at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz the next week of academic training will take place at the Archives of International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

Participants of the GHRA 2015
Participants of the GHRA 2015

On Day One recent research and fundamental concepts of global humanitarianism were critically reviewed. Participants discussed crucial texts on the historiography of humanitarianism and human rights. Themes included the historical emergence of humanitarianism since the eighteenth century and the troubled relationship between humanitarianism, human rights, and humanitarian intervention. Further, twentieth century conjunctures of humanitarian aid and the colonial entanglements of human rights were discussed. Finally, recent scholarship on the genealogies of the politics of humanitarian protection and human rights since the 1970s was assessed, also with a view on the challenges for the 21st century. Continue reading “Global Humanitarianism Research Academy 2015 – Week 1”

The Non-Western Origins of Human Rights in East Germany

Stamp commemorating International Human Rights Year 1968. The tree and globe represent the right to life.
Stamp commemorating International Human Rights Year 1968. The tree and globe represent the right to life.

David Spreen
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Cross-Posted from Dissertation Reviews

A review of Between dictatorship and dissent: Ideology, legitimacy, and human rights in East Germany, 1945-1990, by Ned Richardson-Little.

[Editor’s note: Dr. Richardson-Little is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Exeter. His dissertation was awarded the Fritz Stern Prize by the German Historical Institute.]

Ned Richardson-Little’s well-argued and well-researched dissertation challenges the idea that human rights gained importance in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) only after the signing of the Helsinki accords in 1975 – in other words, that the language of human rights was a gift from the West. The problem with this narrative is that it cannot explain why the Socialist Unity Party (SED) signed a document that was so obviously contrary to its own interests. Richardson-Little’s dissertation traces the evolution of the SED’s human rights policies through several stages between 1945 and the 1980s and shows how human rights rhetoric became mobilized by East German citizens as early as 1968. Rather than presenting a narrative of liberal triumphalism from Helsinki to 1989, he demonstrates that human rights discourses existed in the GDR before the 1970s while insisting that these discourses were unstable and contested. Continue reading “The Non-Western Origins of Human Rights in East Germany”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Cat's Cradle

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Cat’s Cradle the TV show to the modern Left’s ‘White Man’s Burden’, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Q&A: What Can Red Cross Records Say About History of Humanitarianism & Human Rights?


An Imperial & Global Forum Interview

Professor Richard Toye (RT) interviews Centre Director Andrew Thompson (AT). Professor Thompson recently returned from an archival visit to the ICRC and would like to thank Jean-Luc Blondel and his colleagues for their assistance and guidance.

RT: Andrew, you’ve recently come back from Geneva, where you’ve been doing some archival research. What were you looking at and why?

AT: I was looking at two sets of files in the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross that have not yet been publicly released. The first on the Nigeria-Biafran War – a watershed in the history of the ICRC as well as a conflict that has been aptly described as the “crucible of modern humanitarianism”. Continue reading “Q&A: What Can Red Cross Records Say About History of Humanitarianism & Human Rights?”

Dutch Imperial Past Returns to Haunt the Netherlands

Paul Doolan
University of Zurich and Zurich International School

Photos in De Volkskrant July, 10 2012
Photos in De Volkskrant, 10 July 2012.

In July 2012 a Dutch national newspaper, de Volkskrant, published two photos on its front page showing Dutch soldiers brutally shooting and killing unarmed victims in a mass grave. The images were shocking to a nation that prides itself as being upright and humanitarian. Never mind that the photos were nearly 70 years old. Found in a rubbish tip, they were, in fact, the first ever photos to be published of Dutch soldiers killing Indonesians during a war of decolonization that is still euphemistically referred to as a “Police Action.”

Why did it take so long for such images to reach the public? Continue reading “Dutch Imperial Past Returns to Haunt the Netherlands”