CfP: Humanitarianism and the ‘Greater War’, 1912-1923

University College Dublin, 6-7 September 2019

This 2-day conference provides an opportunity to debate the ideas, developments and legacy of humanitarianism in the era of the Great War, 1912-1923. The conference sits at the intersection of two burgeoning fields of historical inquiry, the history of humanitarianism and the history of the Great War. Recent years have seen an outpouring of innovative research on humanitarian individuals and organizations, fields of action, and the construction and use of ‘humanitarian narratives.’ A rapidly growing number of scholars, too, have highlighted the unique role the First World War played in fostering a ‘humanitarian awakening’ (Irwin), shaping humanitarian norms, discourses and practices. At the same time, recent scholarship on the First World War has led us to understand that conflict as a geographically and temporally much ‘Greater War’, whose critical events extended far beyond the fighting on the Western front, and 1914-18.

The conference aims to bring together scholars working on a wide variety of topics and employing different methodological approaches to showcase and debate current research trends. It will discuss absences and contradictions in existing scholarship, and identify areas of particular interest for future research. Last not least, the conference seeks to encourage a dialogue between the all too often isolated historiographies on humanitarianism and the ‘Greater War’: for example, how does the study of that period’s unprecedented suffering complicate the war’s accepted chronologies and geographies? And how might new notions of the global nature of the First World War inform our approach to the history of humanitarianism? In all, the conference hopes to interrogate the significance of the era of the Great War for the emergence of modern humanitarianism, while also underlining the importance of humanitarian engagement to understanding the war and its aftermath. It is envisaged that a selection of conference papers will be published in an edited volume.

Topics for presentations might include but are not limited to:

  • the role of individuals and organizations in humanitarian work in the era of the Great War
  • the global dimension of suffering and efforts to ameliorate it
  • the emergence of humanitarian norms, organizational forms, and practices at the time, and (where applicable) their long-term impact
  • the place of humanitarian concerns in (home front) mobilizations and demobilizations
  • the actions and agency of relief beneficiaries
  • ruptures and continuities between the war and the post-war period
  • the relationship between humanitarianism and international politics

Scholars interested in presenting a paper at the conference are invited to send a brief abstract of 300 words and a one-page CV by 15 February 2019 to

The conference will be able to provide hotel accommodation to presenters.

Scientific Committee:

Peter Gatrell, University of Manchester

Robert Gerwarth, University College Dublin

Rebecca Gill, University of Huddersfield

Heather Jones, University College London

Davide Rodogno, The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Organizing Committee: 

Elisabeth Piller, University College Dublin

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