Research Topics, Part 1: Humanitarianism and Intervention

One aim of our blog is to identify, present, discuss and exchange ideas about emerging research topics in the prospering field of the history of humanitarianism and human rights. Today I would like to point to one of these new research topics, namely “Humanitarianism and Intervention”.

In my current research project ‘In the cause of humanity’ here at the IEG Mainz ( I work about various humanitarian interventions in the 19th century and their impact to an early history of the development of international humanitarian norms. In my eyes it is important to historicize the phenomena of enforcing humanitarian norms by military means and to bridge the experiences of various centuries of “enforcing humanity”. For instance the conference “The Emergence of Humanitarian Intervention. Concepts and Practices in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.”, which I have organized in October 2012 at the Historischen Kolleg in Munich, sought to investigate the historical emergence of humanitarian intervention in the 19th and 20th centuries. Acknowledging the multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary character of the topic, the conference brought together a group of international experts from different disciplines such as international law, sociology, political science, and history, thus emphasizing the enrichment of research from different perspectives and various approaches.


The four leading themes and questions of the conference were:

  1. Which concepts, actors, and practices of humanitarian intervention can be identified in the 19th and 20th centuries?
  2. Where are the philosophical and legal origins of enforcing humanitarian norms by military means?
  3. Which role does the mobilization of public opinion play in the decision for and against humanitarian intervention?
  4. What is the relationship between the humanitarian justification to protect and the interest of power politics to interfere in the sovereign rights of states? What chances and risks are implied in the concept of humanitarian intervention?

If you are interested in reading the complete conference report by Adrian Franco, you will find it at:


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