Journal of Modern European History (themed issue on humanitarianism)

The latest issue (vol. 12, no. 2) of the Journal of Modern European History is dedicated to ‘Ideas, Practices and Histories of Humanitarianism’.  It comprises seven articles and is guest-edited by Charlotte Alston and Daniel Laqua (the author of this blog post).

If your institution subscribes to the journal, you can access the articles online via this link. As you may gather, the first and final pieces on the site are separate articles – i.e. they are not part of our ‘humanitarian’ cluster.

For the benefit of the HHR blog’s readers, I shall offer a few comments on the content. You are also welcome to download our flyer (JMEH – Humanitarianism issue), which provides you with a handy overview. Although the pieces cover a considerable time span – from the early nineteenth century to the 1970s – they address overarching issues and questions. A particular focus is on European actors and the motivations that underpinned the adoption of specific causes.

  • Norbert Götz (Södertörn University) discusses British relief for German victims of the Napoleonic Wars. He draws attention to several national factors that contributed to the fundraising and relief efforts: the role of immigrant activism, ideas about Anglo-German kinship, and notions of ‘British generosity’.
  • Charlotte Alston (Northumbria University) examines support efforts for the Doukhobors, a non-violent religious group that faced persecution in Tsarist Russia. Her article discusses the role of Quakers and Tolstayans, revealing the ways in which activists identified with the subjects of their campaign.
  • Stefan Dyroff (Bern University) shows how and why European activists campaigned for the rights of the Ukrainian minority in interwar Poland. His discussion ranges from British and French groups (Union of Democratic Control, Ligue des Droits de l’Homme) to several international associations (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Labour and Socialist International, International Federation for the League of Nations).
  • Isabella Löhr (Basel University) considers the different activities of organisations that worked on behalf of academics who had fled Nazi Germany. She focuses on the Academic Assistance Council (AAC) and the Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland (NdW), showing how an emphasis on the ‘utility’ of refugee scholars sometimes replaced humanitarian arguments.
  • Angéline Escafré-Dublet (Sciences Po, Paris) studies the case of AMANA, a charity that supported North African immigrants in France. This organisation proved practical aid and undertook social work in cooperation with the French state. The author highlights the connection between AMANA’s activities, humanitarian practices, and actors who had previously operated in colonial settings.
  • Jochen Kemner (Bielefeld University) traces the emergence of the international movement for the defence of indigenous peoples’ rights. He shows how organisations such as Survival International and the Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker cast their efforts as a response to humanitarian emergencies. The author also considers the relationship between advocacy organisations and indigenous actors.
  • My own contribution frames these articles. It discusses tropes and ideas that sustained the construction of humanitarian causes. The essay seeks to capture the different facets of humanitarianism – both as a concept and a practice – through the metaphor of the ‘humanitarian cloud’.

As a whole, the journal issue offers a critical assessment of the ways in which humanitarian causes were construed and constructed. Each contribution investigates specific rationales for political activism, covering a spectrum that encompasses solidarity, compassion and self-interest. Taken together, the articles shed light on the self-perception and self-fashioning of humanitarian activists. At the same time, they illustrate the manifold ways in which campaigners drew attention to their cause, tracing the engagement with both national and international audiences.

If you have any further questions about this publication, feel free to contact me directly by sending an email to

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