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.


9.20: Welcome –  Dirk Moses

9.30: Johannes Paulmann, The Humanitarian Narrative in Context: From Mission and Empire to Cold War and Decolonization

10.45: Coffee

11.15: Fabian Klose, Enforcing Humanity: A Genealogy of Humanitarian Intervention

12.30: Lunch

13.45: Semih Çelik, Before the Crescent and the Cross: Humanitarian Ideas and Practices in the Ottoman Empire (c. 1800-1860)

14.45: Emily Baughan, Sewing for Their Supper: Idleness, Industry and Humanitarian Craft Initiatives in the Twentieth-Century

15.45: Coffee

16.00: Alexandra Pfeiff, The Red Swastika Society and its Transnational Humanitarian Activism for the World

17.00: Simon Stevens, Humanitarianism, Anti-Capitalism, and Anti-Apartheid Activism



Emily Baughan is a lecturer in modern history at the University of Bristol, and a Max Weber Fellow at the EUI. She researches the history of aid, development, and internationalism in the twentieth century, and is currently working on her first monograph, Saving the Children: Humanitarianism, Internationalism and Empire, c.1915-1970.

Semih Çelik is a PhD researcher at the EUI. His dissertation examines the effects of climate change and famines on socio-political transformation of Ottoman Empire during the first half of the nineteenth century. His article “Between History of Humanitarianism and Humanitarianization of History: A Discussion on Ottoman Help for the Victims of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1852” was published recently in WerkstattGeschichte.

Fabian Klose is Senior Researcher at the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) in Mainz. His research focuses on the history of decolonization, international humanitarian law, human rights, and humanitarianism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has recently published Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence: The Wars of Independence in Kenya and Algeria (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), and is currently working on his new project about humanitarian intervention in the long nineteenth century. His edited volume, The Emergence of Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas and Practice from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press in 2015.

Dirk Moses is Professor of Global and Colonial History at the EUI and senior editor of the Journal of Genocide Research.

Johannes Paulmann is Director of the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) at Mainz. His research interests cover European and international history. His prize-winning Pomp und Politik (Paderborn 2000) is a new cultural history of the nineteenth-century European states system. He co-edited (with Martin H. Geyer) The Mechanics of Internationalism: Culture, Society and Politics from the 1840s to the First World War (Oxford, 2001), and recently published “Conjunctures in the History of International Humanitarian Aid During the Twentieth Century,” in Humanity (2013). With Fabian Klose, he edits the blog Humanitarianism & Human Rights:

Alexandra Pfeiff graduated with an MA from the Free University Berlin and is since 2011 a PhD researcher at the EUI. Her thesis compares the work of Chinese humanitarian societies such as the Chinese Red Cross and the Red Swastika Society during the Republican era. In 2014, Alexandra worked at the Research Center for the History of Republican China at the Nanjing University with a scholarship from the Confucius Institute. She recently published “Das Chinesische Rote Kreuz und die Rote Swastika Gesellschaft: Eine vergleichende Perspektive auf chinesischen Humanitarismus” in WerkstattGeschichte.

Simon Stevens is a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow at the EUI. He completed his PhD at Columbia University in 2015, with the title “Boycotts and Sanctions against South Africa: An International History.” His publications include “‘From the Viewpoint of a Southern Governor’: The Carter Administration and Apartheid, 1977–1981,” Diplomatic History (2012), and “Why South Africa? The Politics of Anti-Apartheid Activism in Britain in the Long 1970s,” in The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s, ed. Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn (2014).

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