“Refugees are Human” – Humanitarian Narratives and Strategies

In a recent conference held at the Leibniz Institute of European History international scholars discussed in an interdisciplinary dialogue the history of European concepts of humanity in practice. However, as matter of fact the relationship between concepts and practices of humanity is not only one of historical research, but is also most relevant in our days. Confronted with the tremendous humanitarian crisis of hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men trying to escape from disaster, war, and persecution – many of them drowning and dying on their perilous journeys to the alleged safe haven of Europe – voices are loudly raised appealing to common humanity and demanding appropriate action by the international community.


Syrian refugees strike at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway Station, 4 September 2015, Picture by Mstyslav Chernov CC BY-SA 4.0

Horrified by the loss of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea and on the concrete occasion of the appalling discovery of 71 dead refugees asphyxiated inside an abandoned lorry nearby the Austrian-Hungarian border the UN Secretary-General Baan Ki-Moon launched an urgent appeal on 28 August 2015: “A large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refuges to protection and asylum. When considering asylum requests, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack. This is not a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings. […] I appeal to all governments involved to provide comprehensive responses, expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion and in accordance with their international obligations.”[1]

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New publication: SOS Biafra

This new publication may be of interest to readers of this blog: SOS Biafra by Dominik Matter is an analysis of Swiss foreign relations in the context of the Nigerian civil war (1967–1970).  «SOS Biafra» was the International Committee of the Red Cross’s appeal to the public, in May 1968, to support the relief mission in the secessionist area, which was completely isolated. Besides such public appeals, it were images of starving children that temporarily brought the war and the impending humanitarian crisis in Nigeria to the public attention in the West.


Swiss authorities faced numerous political challenges related to Biafra: the ICRC mission, the Bührle affair, the so-called “Biafra propaganda” by the Geneva Markpress agency, or the petition for the recognition of Biafra all indicate the complexity of the subject. On the basis of this constellation, Dominik Matter traces the interaction between government and non-government agents in the development of Swiss foreign relations in the context of the Nigerian civil war.

The open-access book is published as volume 5 of Quaderni di Dodis, a publication series of the Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland (DDS) research center.

Further information and download: dodis.ch/q5

Towards a History of Socioeconomic Rights

First event of the Socioeconomic Rights in History Network will take place in Paris at the Institut d’Études avancées.

There will be public lectures at 18 November 2015, 14h-17h:



Socioeconomic Rights in History: Questions and Problems

Charles Walton, University of Warwick

Health and the History of Socioeconomic Rights since 1750

Claudia Stein, University of Warwick



The Demise of Social Rights as Human Rights in Europe

Marco Duranti, University of Sydney

The Human Right to Health: the Modern Philosophy, Politics and Economics

Sridhar Venkatapuram, King’s College London


Comments, Q & A


International Workshop: Humanitarianism in Historical Perspective





25 November 2015


European University Institute

Sala Europa, Villa Schifanoia

via Giovanni Boccaccio 121, Florence

Few keywords evoke as much controversy as humanitarianism. What for some is a heroic movement that ended the slave trade is for others the rhetorical handmaiden of the European empires that partitioned Africa in the name of ending slavery and introducing civilization in the late nineteenth century. Its applications are also diverse, ranging from foreign interventions in the internal affairs of states to national and international regimes of refugee relief. In the main, humanitarianism has been associated with western powers—whether positively or negatively—but is that an accurate understanding of these phenomena? New research is historicizing these impressions, debates, and associated notions of humanity, human rights, and genocide prevention. This workshop continues the critical project of contextualizing humanitarianism’s many dimensions by conducting sober genealogies, invoking global frames, and conducting dense empirical reconstructions. Continue reading

Socioeconomic Rights in History Network

Rights, Duties and the Politics of Obligation: Socioeconomic Rights in History

Socioeconomic rights have a long but poorly understood history. They are sometimes referred to as ‘second generation rights’, as twentieth-century additions to core civil and political rights stretching back to the European Enlightenment. Yet, socioeconomic rights – such as the right to work and to subsistence – emerged in the political struggles of the French Revolution and have been repeatedly argued for since then. Although most countries in the world have legally recognized them as ‘human rights’ by signing the United Nations’ 1966 International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, they tend not to receive the same degree of legitimacy and visibility as civil and political rights.


This Leverhulme International Network brings together scholars from around the world to explore the history of socioeconomic rights. We will consider representations of them over time as well as the various political and philosophical challenges to them. Their history, we believe, is bound up with other historical dynamics, including notions about ‘duties’ and ‘obligations’, theories of political economy, politics (left and right), philanthropy and humanitarianism. While taking a broad view of socioeconomic rights, we will focus especially on health: a topic of government concern since the eighteenth century but one that became understood in terms of civil and human rights in the twentieth.

The network is hosted by the Global History and Culture Centre and European Centre at the University of Warwick. Claudia Stein (History) and Charles Walton (History) are leading it, with support from James Harrison (Law). Network partners include:

Nicolas Delalande (Sciences Po)
Paul-André Rosental (Sciences Po)
Sabine Arnaud (Max Planck Institute of the History of Science)
Fabian Klose (Leibniz Institute of European History)
Sam Moyn (Harvard University)
Mark Goodale (University of Lausanne)


During its 36 month duration, the network will include six meetings on various issues concerning socioenocmic rights in history.

For more information visit the network’s Webpage @:


Impressions of the GHRA 2015 on IEG YouTube

Here you will find impressions of the organizers and some participants of the first Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) on IEG YouTube, which took place during July 2015 at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz and in the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva!

Please note that the Call for Applications for the GHRA 2016 in Exeter and Geneva has been already published here on hhr and imperialglobalexeter.

The Deadline for applications is December 31, 2015.

Conference Program “Humanity – a History of European Concepts in Practice”

Convenors:    Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin as well as all members                                      of the Leibniz Institute of European History Research Area II

Venue:            Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz, Germany

Date:               October 8 to 10, 2015

2015-10-08 -10  Poster Humanity

Conference Program

Thursday, October 8, 2015

16:00: Welcome and Introduction, Johannes Paulmann (Mainz), Fabian Klose (Mainz), Mirjam Thulin (Mainz)

16:30-17:30: Keynote Lecture: Humankind from Division to Recomposition, Francisco Bethencourt (London)

18:00 Dinner


Friday, October 9, 2015

09:00-10:30: Panel I: Morality and Human Dignity, Part I: Early Modern Concepts

  • Humanism and Its Humanitas. The Transition from humanitas Christiana to humanitas politica in the Political Writings of Erasmus, Mihai-D. Grigore (Mainz)
  • All People have Reason and Free Will. The Debate about the Nature of the Indigenous Americans in the 16th Century, Mariano Delgado (Fribourg)
  • Chair: Jorge Luengo (Mainz)
  • Commentary: Wolfgang Schmale (Vienna)

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Call for Applications for Global Humanitarianism Research Academy – Deadline 31 December 2015

Drs Fabian Klose, Johannes Paulmann, and Andrew Thompson are pleased to announce that the Call for Applications for the second Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) 2016 is now open, with a deadline of 31 December 2015.


Call for Applications:

Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy

International Research Academy on the History of Global Humanitarianism

Academy Leaders:                    

Fabian Klose (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz)

Johannes Paulmann (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz)

Andrew Thompson (University of Exeter)

in co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (Geneva) and with support by the German Historical Institute London


University of Exeter, UK

& Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva

Dates:                                       10-22 July 2016

Deadline:                                  31 December 2015

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Conference “Connecting with the Past – the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement in Critical Historical Perspective”

Cross-posted from icrchistory

The International Committee of the Red Cross is hosting a two-day conference, bringing together prominent humanitarians and academics to reflect critically on the history of humanitarian action.

The 16-17 September conference, “Connecting with the Past – the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement in Critical Historical Perspective”, will consist of seven panels with around 30 panelists in addition to invited experts.


The first night of the symposium will be a livestreamed public conference entitled “Stubborn Realities, Shared Humanity: History in the Service of Humanitarian Action.” It will feature the ICRC’s president Peter Maurer, along with Jane Cocking (Humanitarian Director, Oxfam UK), Sir Michael Aaronson (formerly Save the Children), academics Irène Herrmann (Associate Professor of Swiss Transnational History, University of Geneva) and Andrew Thompson, (Professor of Modern History, University of Exeter),  moderated by the ICRC’s Vincent Bernard.

At its International Conference in Vienna in 1965, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement proclaimed the Seven Fundamental Principles – Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary service, Unity and Universality – as the basis for its humanitarian approach.

The two-day historical symposium, jointly organized by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the University of Exeter and the ICRC, aims to reflect on the relevance, influence and challenges of the humanitarian principles, from the birth of modern humanitarianism in the 19th century to today.

Michael Geyer’s GHRA Lecture on IEG YouTube

On the occaison of the first Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) Prof. Dr. Michael Geyer (University of Chicago) was inivited as guest lecturer and gave a intriguing talk on “Humanitarianism, Humanitarian Law, and Human Rights. A Difficult Relationship”

In order to enable a broader public audience to listen and to watch Michael Geyer’s perceptive lecture on a highly relevant topic, we decided to put it on the new IEG YouTube channel. Enjoy watching Michael Geyer’s talk!

There will more videos coming up soon at IEG YouTube, so keep following it!

Additionally, please note that the Call for Application for the GHRA 2016 will be soon published here on hhr!

Fabian Klose        Johannes Paulmann      Andrew Thompson

CfP: Empire and Humanitarianism, 13 and 14 June 2016, University of Exeter

Cross-posted from:


Following the success of the Network’s first conference in June 2014, we’re delighted to announce details of our second conference, which will take place at the University of Exeter in June 2016. The next conference will be on the theme of ‘Empire and Humanitarianism’ and the call for papers can be found below. As with our first conference, we’re particularly keen to have submissions from PhD students and early career researchers but proposals from more established historians are welcome too. A selection of papers from the first conference are scheduled to appear in the Journal of World History later this year and we anticipate that our second conference will result in a special issue or edited collection.

The ‘global turn’ has invigorated the study of humanitarianism, development and human rights. Within the context of Imperial history, historians have pointed to the complex and often contradictory relationship between humanitarianism and empire. Although humanitarianism emerged in response to the worst excesses of imperialism, such as the slave trade and the atrocities associated with the Boer War, it was nonetheless shaped by the ‘moral and political frameworks of empire’.[1] In other words, empire and humanitarianism were not necessarily incompatible and could in fact be mutually reinforcing, whether this was through the paternal rhetoric of the ‘civilising mission’ or the development of international regulatory agencies during the inter-war period. Although these discourses and mechanisms were often more concerned with consolidating the authority of the imperial powers than they were in protecting the rights of colonial subject populations, humanitarianism could have emancipatory effects. As the legitimacy of empire came under increasing scrutiny after 1945, metropolitan activists shifted from abstract expressions of sympathy for colonial peoples to forms of participatory activism that involved the outright rejection of empire and the channelling of political and material support to nationalist movements For anti-colonial nationalists the emerging discourses associated with human rights, self-determination, and development provided a global context for their local struggles, enabling them to forge transnational links with other anti-colonial groups and providing the language and the means with which to undermine the moral authority of the imperial state.

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New Blog on the Helsinki Accords and Human Rights

Ned Richardson-Little (University of Exeter) has just started a new blog on the Helsinki Accords and Human Rights @:



US President Gerald Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev

As Associate Research Fellow Ned is currently working on “1989 after 1989: The Fall of State-Socialism in a Global Perspective,” a Leverhulme Trust supported project led by Prof. James Mark.

Ned’s research projects focus on the politics of human rights in the Eastern Bloc and the history of oil in East Germany.

Enjoy reading and exploring Ned’s new blog!

ICRC Report on the Effects of the Atomic Bomb at Hiroshima 1945

Cross-posted from icrchistory

Rapport rédigé en octobre 1945 par Fritz Bilfinger, délégué du CICR au Japon à cette époque, concernant les effets du bombardement atomique sur la population d’Hiroshima.

This report on the effects of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima was written on October 1945 by Fritz Bilfinger, ICRC delegate in Japan


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Interdisciplinary Conference “Humanity – a History of European Concepts in Practice”

Convenors:    Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin as well as all members                                      of the Leibniz Institute of European History Research Area II

Venue:            Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz, Germany

Date:               October 8 to 10, 2015

The aim of the interdisciplinary conference “Humanity” – a History of European Concepts in Practice is to analyze the varieties and shifting meanings of the term “Humanity” within the European context as well as in the context of Europe’s relations to other world regions from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The term defined in an English dictionary of 1755 as “1) The nature of a man, 2) Humankind; the collective body of mankind, 3) Benevolence; tenderness, 4) Philology; grammatical studies”, offers a wide range of starting points in research. Thus, references to “Humanity” can be found in ever increasing numbers on the research agenda of different disciplines.

2015-10-08 -10  Poster Humanity

In our interdisciplinary conference we seek to investigate the intertwined theoretical debates about “Humanity” on the one hand, and their diverse consequences in practice on the other hand. Having religious, colonial, social, and gender perspectives in mind, theologians, philosophers, legal and literary scholars as well as historians will discuss the issue of “Humanity” in a broader dialogue in order to connect their research agendas. In doing so, we will focus on the following issues:

  • Morality and Human Dignity
  • Violence and International Law
  • Philanthropy
  • Social Inequalities

By taking a comparative approach and exploring the intersections of religious studies, international law, philosophy, and literature as well as the history of humanitarianism and human rights the conference will be organized along four leading key questions:

  1. Is the term “Humanity” used as a central point of reference in your sources? If this is the case, to what extend is the term connected to the emergence of normative concepts, implying moral and religious commandments, humanitarian obligations, international law, and human rights?
  2. Which differences and similarities can be identified in the context of various linguistic, cultural and political backgrounds? Are there any equivalent or alternative terms used?
  3. Which historical actors explicitly refer to the term “Humanity”? What was the purpose of doing so? Did it significantly contribute to overcome existing divisions, or did it rather foster the emergence of new differences?
  4. Finally, what transformations of the definition and meaning of “Humanity” can be identified within the period of these 400 years that the conference focuses on?

The conference will be taking place at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz, Germany. For further information please contact Fabian Klose or Mirjam Thulin at klose@ieg-mainz.de or thulin@ieg-mainz.de.

‘Archival work and meetings at ICRC vital aspect of the Academy’ – Second Week of GHRA 2015 in Geneva

After the first week of academic training at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz, the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) 2015 travelled for a week of research training and discussion with ICRC members to the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

DSCN5071GHRA participants in the ICRC Archives

The First Day at Geneva started with an introduction to the public archives and library resources by ICRC staff. Jean-Luc Blondel, former Delegate, Head of Division, and currently Adviser to the Department of Communication and Information Management welcomed the group. Daniel Palmieri, the Historical Research Officer at the ICRC, and
Fabrizio Bensi, Archivist, explained the development of the holdings, particularly of the recently opened records from 1966-1975. The Librarian Veronique Ziegenhagen introduced the library with its encompassing publications on International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights, Humanitarian Action, international conflicts and crises. The ICRC also possesses a superb collection of photographs and films which Fania Khan Mohammad, Photo archivist, and Marina Meier, Film archivist explained.

In the afternoon, the GHRA group had the chance to discuss with Jacques Moreillon, Director General of the ICRC between 1984 and 1988. He gave a presentation on his long experience with special insights into Red Cross prison visits with political detainees. Dr Moreillon was one of the ICRC delegates to visit Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and shared his vivid memories with the participants.

GHRA 2015_110Jacques Moreillon, Honorary Member of the ICRC, at the GHRA 2015

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