Report of the GHRA 2018

The fourth Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA) took place from July 09 to 20, 2018 at the University of Exeter and the Archives of International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The GHRA was organized by FABIAN KLOSE (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz), JOHANNES PAULMANN (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz), and ANDREW THOMPSON (University of Exeter) in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and with support by the German Historical Institute London. The Steering Committee received a huge amount of applications for the GHRA 2018 from around the world and selected twelve fellows (nine PhD candidates, three Postdocs). The participants came from Canada, China, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States and represented a range of disciplinary approaches from History, International Relations, and Political Science. Additionally, the GHRA was joined by GUY THOMAS (ICRC Geneva), IRÈNE HERRMANN (University of Geneva), STACEY HYND (University of Exeter), MARC-WILLIAM PALEN (University of Exeter), and ANDREAS GESTRICH (German Historical Institute London).

First Week:

On Day One, the participants started with discussing crucial texts on the historiography of humanitarianism and human rights. The common reading list included texts regarding the historical emergence of humanitarianism since the eighteenth century and the troubled relationship between humanitarianism, human rights, and international humanitarian law. Furthermore, the participants reflected on twentieth century conjunctures of humanitarian aid and the colonial entanglements of human rights as well as recent scholarship on the genealogies of the politics of humanitarian protection and human rights since the 1970s. In the evening, MARCUS GEISSER (ICRC, United Kingdom) gave a stimulating public guest lecture “The ‘present’ is never present – it is already past. Humanitarian action in an age of reorder” at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter, in which he reflected on his personal experiences as an ICRC delegate for twenty years in various conflicts around the world.

During Day Two, the fellows presented their Ph.D. and Postdoc projects and discussed them with their peers. These projects represented the richness of research recently undertaken by a new generation of scholars who are set to make a critical contribution to both fields of the history of humanitarianism and human rights. The discussed topics included issues of the genesis of security specialists within the humanitarian field and the effects of this professional transformation (MONIQUE BEERLI); the medical humanitarian action at times of emergency and the shift from crisis to development, with case studies of Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and Palestinian camps in Jordan (JENNIFER CARR); the history of the German Red Cross in the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany after 1945 (RYAN HEYDEN); the prohibition of weapons and the development of laws of armed conflict from the nineteenth century to the present (ELENA KEMPF); the contested legacies of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in mid-twentieth century debates about race and empire (EMMA MACKINNON); the emergence of the concept of collective human rights in the 1970s and 1980s (CHRISTOF PLATH); the history of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the humanitarian mobilization of the world between 1914 and 1919 (ELISABETH PILLER); the work of American humanitarian aid organizations in French internment and concentration camps during the Second World War (MEGHAN RILEY); the emergence of a worldwide refugee policy between 1950-1970 (JAKOB SCHÖNHAGEN); the interaction of transnational humanitarian organizations, notably the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, with local actors in post- Second World War China between 1944 and 1949 (JIAYI TAO); the colonial legacies in the practical delivery of humanitarian aid within the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations during the Cold War period (MARGOT TUDOR); displacement in historical perspective by focussing on technologies of identification, apparatus, and assemblages (REBECCA VINEY-WOOD). The rich and stimulating discussion was enriched by IRÈNE HERRMANN, Professor at the University of Geneva, as well as STACEY HYND and MARC PALEN, both from the University of Exeter.

In the morning of Day Three, the conveners of the GHRA offered the opportunity for individual tutorials to all fellows. The GHRA continued with a guest lecture by GUY THOMAS, who is Head of Library and Public Archives of the ICRC in Geneva. In his lecture “Humanitarianism for the Record: the ICRC’s Library and Public Archives” he gave valuable insights into the structure and rich material of the ICRC archives, thus preparing the fellows for their archival research during the second week in Geneva. In the afternoon Professor SAUL DUBOW (University of Cambridge) held a stimulating guest lecture on the topic “The Strange Rise and near Death of Human Rights and Constitutionalism in South Africa”, in which he presented a sharp analysis of more than two hundred years of rights discourse in South African history.

Day Four and Five was reserved to work on new entries for the Online Atlas on the History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights ( The open access publication of the Online Atlas consists of an interactive world map displaying locations in Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe, where significant events took place and shaped significantly the development of humanitarianism and human rights. The fellows from successive years are contributing each year with their entries to this publication, thus connecting the GHRA and their research to a broader public.

Second Week:

After the first week of scholarly debate and academic training at the University of Exeter, the GHRA 2018 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. The First Day at Geneva started with an introduction to the public archives and library resources by ICRC staff. BRIGITTE TROYON BORGEAUD, Head of Archives and

Information Management Division, welcomed all participants and gave an intriguing overview of the ICRC archives. FABRIZIO BENSI, ICRC Archivist, and DANIEL PALMIERI, ICRC Historian, described the structure of the archives and explained the development of its holdings. FANIA KHAN MOHAMMAD (ICRC Archivist) then presented the Tracing Archives of the ICRC and showed how the tracing service is working up today. Some of the GHRA participants even used the tracing service to research on the fate of relatives during World War Two. Furthermore, VÉRONIQUE ZIEGENHAGEN introduced the Library with its encompassing publications on International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights, Humanitarian Action, international conflicts and crises.

The Second Day was reserved for individual research, so that the GHRA fellows could start to work intensively at the archives and library. The staff members assisted them fully in tracing archival sources relevant for their individual Ph.D. and Postdoc research. The students discovered the rich material in documents. In the afternoon SABINE HABERLER KREIS and MARINA MEIER introduced the fellows to the superb collection of photographs, films and sound material in the ICRC Archives, which are also available online at

After another research time in the morning of the Third Day, the afternoon was dedicated to a dialogue in the Humanitarium with YVES DACCORD, the Director General of the ICRC. In his presentation Yves Daccord talked about his rich experiences as an ICRC delegate since 1992 in various conflicts and gave intriguing insights in his work as acting Director General since 2010 on ICRC policies and future strategies of the organization.

On Day Four the fellows had a chance to discuss with JEAN-MARIE HENCKAERTS, head of the ICRC project to update the Commentaries on the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977, various issues on the development of international humanitarian law and the challenges in recent times. After an intense debate, CÉDRIC COTTER, former fellow of the first GHRA in 2015 and now member of the ICRC, talked on his experiences as a law and policy researchers at the ICRC law and policy forum. In the debate with the GHRA participants, it became obvious that the long-term relations which the ICRC establishes in crisis regions makes historical knowledge and research highly relevant to recent humanitarian action.  

The GHRA concluded on the Fifth Day with a feedback discussion on the past two weeks and an overall assessment of Research Academy programme 2018. After two intensive and enjoyable weeks in Exeter and Geneva, the fellows of the GHRA 2018 will stay connected with each other by working on their joint project of the Online Atlas of the History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights to which they will all submit an entry by the autumn.

The next GHRA will take place in from 08 to 19 July 2019, its first week this time, like in 2017, at the Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz and the second week again at the ICRC in Geneva. You find the CfA for the GHRA 2019 here:

Cite this blog post
Fabian Klose (2018, October 24). Report of the GHRA 2018. Humanitarianism & Human Rights. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

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