Guest Lectures of the GHRA 2016

The second Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) has started with one week of academic training at the University of Exeter before continuing with archival research at the ICRC Archives in Geneva. On this occasion the GHRA is very pleased to welcome Dr. Jean-Luc Blondel and Prof. Richard Overy as two distinguished guest lecturers on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.

In the morning session Dr. Jean-Luc Blondel, the former Head of the ICRC Archives and former special advisor to the previous ICRC president, will speak on ICRC work and policies in 1966-1975.

In the afternoon session Prof. Richard Overy, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the British Academy as well as Professor of History at the University of Exeter, will give the guest lecture To Bomb or Not to Bomb: Morality, Expediency and Necessity in the British Wartime Experience.

We are all very much looking forward to these two presentations and the following discussion!




Humanitarian Ethics – Berlin Colloquium on Contemporary History

From Rights to Favour? Didier Fassin on the ‘Moral Economy of Asylum in Contemporary Society’

Some notes by Johannes Paulmann (IEG, Mainz)

“Refugees Welcome” – Portraits of refugees and volunteers as part of a rally, 3rd Oct. 2015, Vienna, Mariahilferstraße, photo: © Bwag/Commons, CCBY-SA-4.0

The anthropologist and sociologist Didier Fassin (Princeton) opened the 21st Berlin Colloquium on Contemporary History at the Einstein Forum, Potsdam, on 3 December 2015. In his public lecture Fassin analysed the recent shift in representing individual refugees and the legitimacy of their claims – a shift, as he explained, from a right to asylum to granting asylum as a favour. How are we to explain the accompanying changes in recognition rates and in the manner of accepting refugees?

Fassin sees the convergent logics of two developments at play. On the one side, the political economy regarding immigration changed during the 1970s. Until then workers from abroad were invited and welcomed into an expanding west European economy. With the onset of economic crisis and the slowing down of growth, immigrants were regarded as superfluous in the labour market. However, this perspective is not a sufficient explanation. It took also, on the other side, a change in terms of moral economy, the logic of which shifted from a matter of compassion and admiration for those persecuted to suspicion and hostility towards immigrants during the 1990s when the Cold War ended, the control of borders within the EU was abolished, far right movements rose, and the social integration of refugees or migrants became a matter of public debate.

Fassin adapts here historian E.P. Thompson’s idea of the ‘moral economy’ but neither regards it as a code particular to a group, such as rural workers during the industrial revolution, nor understands it as something long lasting and stable. He rather uses the notion of a moral economy to describe the production, circulation and appropriation of values and affects within the realm of specific problems, in his case migrants wishing to enter a country. The moral economy regarding ‘refugees’ has changed several times during the period since the Second World War. While I would disagree with the historical periodization of the affects and the way Fassin links them to particular groups, for example concentration camp survivors, Latin American resistance fighters or civil war refugees from the former Yugoslavia, the elements he detects certainly were central to the evolving moral economy: commiseration, respect, admiration, compassion, and mistrust.

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Humanitarianism in Historical Perspective

Workshop at the European University Institute, Florence
Report by Johannes Paulmann (IEG, Mainz)

Florenz 2015_21

The workshop participants at the terrace of Villa Schifanoia (from left to right): Alexandra Pfeiff, Simon Stevens, Fabian Klose, Johannes Paulmann, Emily Baughan, Semih Çelik, and Dirk Moses.

On 25th November 2015, scholars met at the EUI to discuss recent research on the history of humanitarianism. Dirk Moses (EUI), who convened the workshop, opened the day with remarks on the controversial nature of 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. New research is historicizing these impressions, debates, and associated notions of humanity, humanitarian aid, humanitarian intervention, human rights and genocide prevention.

Johannes Paulmann (Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz) started the proceedings with a paper on ‘The Humanitarian Narrative in Context: From Mission and Empire to Cold War and Decolonization’. Adapting Didier Fassin’s notion of ‘humanitarian reason’, he discussed the changing rhetoric and visual means which are employed to form a bond between those who are suffering and those who care to help. While contemporary scholarly critique of crisis relief questions the narrative which leads readers and spectators to assume that ameliorative action is possible, effective and therefore morally required, the ‘emergency imaginary’ (Craig Calhoun) has made responding to disasters by quickly delivering assistance worldwide one of the modalities of globalization carrying moral imperatives for immediate actions. Presenting two historical examples, with a focus on bodily images, Paulmann then analysed the display of mutilations during the Congo reform campaign in the context of missionaries’ drive for saving souls around 1900 and concluded with a documentary film on a West German civilian hospital ship during the Vietnam War. These images were embedded in a narrative of Red Cross neutral humanitarian action and the ambiguous attempts to keep one’s distance to bodily harm, the politics of war, and later also towards refugees. Late 1970s humanitarian reason appeared strikingly similar made up with regard to the politics of solidarity and inequality we presently witness in Europe.

Humanitarian military intervention was the topic Fabian Klose (Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz) presented under the title ‘Enforcing Humanity: A Genealogy of Humanitarian Intervention’. He explored the history of intervention which, in contrast to claims by political scientist, reaches back to the early nineteenth century when a key transition unfolded from the protection of specific co-religious groups to protection ‘in the name of humanity’. Based on extensive archival research, he highlighted the centrality of the suppression of slave-trading for establishing the practice of humanitarian intervention before its inclusion in the body of international law towards the end of the nineteenth century. This has not been fully acknowledged in recent research. Klose also emphasized that the interventionist discourse was not a human rights discourse. ‘In the name of humanity’, at the time did not imply universal individual rights or even less so equality. Humanity as a legal norm to be enforced by states was limited to the notion of a common humanity which was open to numerous differentiations, categorizations, and hierarchies.

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Michael Geyer’s GHRA Lecture on IEG YouTube

On the occasion of the first Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) Prof. Dr. Michael Geyer (University of Chicago) was invited as guest lecturer and gave an 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

GHRA 2015: Michael Geyer’s Guest Lecture on “Humanitarianism, Humanitarian Law, and Human Rights”

The first Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) will start tomorrow with one week of academic training at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz before continuing with archival research at the ICRC Archives in Geneva.

On this occaison the GHRA has invited Prof. Dr. Michael Geyer (University of Chicago) to give a guest lecture on the Topic:

“Humanitarianism, Humanitarian Law, and Human Rights. A Difficult Relationship”


Michael Geyer is Samuel N. Harper Professor of German and European History and a founder of the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. His research interests fall into two parts: an inquiry of the place of human rights in early constitutionalism and the contemporary conundrum of a surfeit of human rights and humanitarian law vs. an actual lack of rights for individuals and people as well as the proliferation of humanitarian activism vs. the proliferation of misery and the inability to provide succor.

Prof. Geyer’s guest lecture will take place on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, from 09:00 – 10:00 a.m. at the Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz.

Exeter  IEG  ICRC  ghil

Richard von Weizsäcker Lecture “The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid: A Historical Perspective” by Johannes Paulmann

Prof. Dr. Johannes Paulmann, currently Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow, will speak today at St Antony’s College/Oxford on the topic “The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid: A Historical Perspective”.

PaulmannHumanitarian aid has been a malleable concept. It covers a broad range of activities including emergency relief delivered to people struck by disasters; longer term efforts to prevent suffering from famine, ill-health or poverty; or humanitarian intervention. The boundaries of humanitarianism have often been blurred. Existing narratives for the twentieth century provide no satisfactory explanation for the evolution of the field. We need to highlight instead historical conjunctures and contingencies such as wars and post-war periods, empires and decolonization. The emphasis on conflicting forces and multi-layered structures at particular moments in time provides a historical perspective revealing fundamental dilemmas faced by international humanitarian aid to the present day.

This public lecture will take place on Tuesday 2nd December 2014, from 05:00 – 06:45 p.m. at the European Studies Centre.

You find additional information at:

Public Lecture: “Humanitarian Action in an Uncertain World” by Dr. Jean-Luc Blondel (ICRC, Geneva)

Dr. Jean-Luc Blondel , Chef de Division, Archives et gestion de l’information at the International Commitee of Red Cross in Geneva, will speak at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz on the topic “Humanitarian Action in an Uncertain World. Challenges for the International Committee of the Red Cross”.

This public lecture will take place on Tuesday, 20th May 2014, at 06:30 p.m.


The entrance is free and guests are welcome!

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Public Lecture “Humanitarianism on Trial” by Prof. Dr. Andrew Thompson

Prof. Dr. Andrew Thompson, University of Exeter, will speak at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz on the topic  “Humanitarianism on Trial. How a global system of aid and development emerged through the end of empire”.

This public lecture will take place on Monday, 05th May 2014, at 06:30 p.m.


Prof. Thompson will be visiting scholar at the Leibniz Institute of European History in May 2014. His research focuses on the relationships between British, Imperial and Global histories. One major strand of his interests has been the effects of empire on British private and public life during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Another has been the study of imperial migrations, including the emigration of people from Britain to the ‘new’ world before 1945, and the immigration of people from Britain’s former colonies after 1945. He has also written about the history of colonial South Africa, informal empire in Latin America, and public memories of empire.

The entrance to the public lecture is free and guests are welcome!

You find additional information at the IEG website:

Film Presentation and Discussion: “NUR LEICHTE KÄMPFE IM RAUM DA NANG” (1970), by HANS-DIETER GRABE

The Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz is organizing a public presentation of the documentary “NUR LEICHTE KÄMPFE IM RAUM DA NANG” (1970) by Hans-Dieter Grabe on Tuesday, 15th April 2014, at 05:00 p.m.



This award winning documentary focuses on the suffering of civilians and the humanitarian aid campaign of the German hospital ship “Helgoland” during the Vietnam War. The film presentation will be followed by a discussion with Hans-Dieter Grabe, the director of the film and a former editor of the ZDF (German Television Broadcasting), about the visualization of human suffering and the manifold relations between media, humanitarian aid, and crisis in the 1970s.

The entrance is free and guests are welcome!

You find additional information at the IEG website:


Dr. Bernhard Gißibl


News: Rupert Neudeck will talk on “Von Cap Anamur bis zu den Grünhelmen: Kosmopolitische Reflexionen“

Rupert Neudeck, one of the founders of the humanitarian NGO “Cap Anamur”, will talk on the topic “Von Cap Anamur bis zu den Grünhelmen: Kosmopolitische Reflexionen.” The presentation will take place at 08.00 pm on September 12th, 2013 at the “Haus am Dom”, Erbacher Hof, in Mainz. The entrance is free and guests are welcome!


This evening lecture is part of the international workshop “Kosmopolitismus: zum heuristischen Mehrwert eines wissenschaftlichen Modekonzepts” organised by Bernhard Gißibl (IEG Mainz) and Isabella Löhr (University of Basel). The workshop will be held at the Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz from September 12th to September 13th, 2013. For participating in the workshop pre-registration is necessary.

You can find the programme of the workshop @: