Conference Report “Humanity – A History of European Concepts in Practice” by Ceren Aygül

Report by Ceren Aygül, Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz

 

This interdisciplinary conference, organized by Fabian Klose (Mainz) and Mirjam Thulin (Mainz) on behalf of the members of IEG research group “Coping with Difference – Concepts of Humanity and Humanitarian Practices”, was held at the Leibniz Institute of European History (Mainz) from 8 to 10 October 2015. Prioritizing a comparative approach and focusing on the intersection of religious studies, international law and philosophy as well as on the history of humanitarianism and human rights, this conference set out to analyse 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. Keeping religious, colonial, social and gender aspects of the issue in mind, theologians and historians discussed the topic of “humanity” by focusing on such key issues as morality and human dignity, violence and international law, philanthropy, charity and solidarity.

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The conference opened with a keynote lecture in which FRANCISCO BETHENCOURT (London) offered a historical review of principal aspects and categories of the division of humankind supposedly based on ethnicity, religion, gender, wealth and social status. He marked economic and political interests as the key motivations behind discriminatory actions and put an emphasis on ideological justifications of those distinctions. Questioning the universality of these divisions, he highlighted power relations as the basis of the categories and divisions, most of which displayed unstable patterns changed or recreated over time.

The first panel of the conference, dealing with morality and human dignity in early modern concepts, opened with MIHAI-D. GRIGORE’s (Mainz) presentation. Grigore concentrated on a transition in early modern political anthropology from humanitas Christiana, which viewed humanity as depending on an external or transcendental factor, i.e. God or the Church, to humanitas politica, which understood humanity as being inherent to every human being. Grigore traced this transition in the writings of Erasmus, which emphasises human nature as the property of individuals, not the Church, and a mutual goodwill intensified by education. MARIANO DELGADO (Fribourg) then presented his paper on the reflections of Spanish Catholic thinkers about the “nature” of American Indians in the 16th century. After outlining the dual genealogy of these thinkers’ ideas – the humanistic, enlightened thread stemming from the Stoa, considering the human race as one family, on the one side and Christian theology stressing man in the image of God on the other – Delgado presented two very different Christian thinkers, Bartolomé de Las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, showing how Sepúlveda justified European expansion in the Americas with the Indians’ supposed inferiority, and how Las Casas fought for the recognition of the Indians’ status as human beings. Delgado’s contribution was a reminder both of the variety of Christian thinking in the early modern period and of the strength of humanistic ideas even before the Enlightenment.

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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

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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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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.

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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.

Humanitarianism & the Media

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At St Antony’s College Oxford, the Richard von Weizsäcker fellow organizes a conference on humanitarianism and aid. The meeting takes place at the European Studies Centre, 70 Woodstock Road, on 19 -20 June 2015. It focuses on the media as an essential feature of the history of humanitarianism. Contributors discuss both the role of the media in humanitarian activities, and the imagery produced in print or on screen. Scholars from history, media studies, and anthropology present recent research with a view on the visual discourse, the meanings and materiality of the images since the beginning of the 20th century. Critically considering the medialisation of the humanitarian, they analyse the interaction between humanitarian agencies and media actors.

Speakers and topics:
(Detailed Programme Hum & Media 2015)

Johannes Paulmann (Oxford/ Mainz)
Introduction

I Humanitarian Imagery

Katharina Stornig (Mainz)
Promoting Distant Children in Need: Christian Imagery in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

Rose Holmes (Sussex)
‘Make the situation real to us without stressing the horrors’: Children, photography and British humanitarianism in the Spanish Civil War

Daniel Palmieri (ICRC, Geneva)
Humanitarianism on the Screen: The ICRC Films from the 1920’s to the 1960’s

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HUMANITY VOLUME 5, ISSUE 3

The new issue contains a diverse suite of articles — Jessica Whyte’s fascinating engagement with the theme of Robinson Crusoe in debates around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an example with a rich earlier philosophical history; Johanna Siméant’s probing sociological examination of the rise of “advocacy” in international affairs; and Peter Slezkine’s breakthrough account of the origins of Human Rights Watch. They are joined by Greg Girard’s photo essay “Phantom Shanghai” and the regular essay reviews, including Laleh Khalili’s fabulous reading of recent books on counterinsurgent warfare and Patrick W. Kelly’s historiographical digest of work on Latin America and human rights.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Blog of the journal “humanity”

In one of my earlier posts  I have already referred to the excellent blog of the journal humanity, which was founded in October 2010 by Sam Moyn, Columbia University, New York.

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We have now decided to link more closely both blogs by cross-posting various contributions from time to time. Our aim is to reach out to the readers of both blogs and to intensive networking in the research field of the history of humanitarianism and human rights.

Enjoy discovering the various contributions!