Conference Report “Gender & Humanitarianism: (Dis-)Empowering Women and Men in the Twentieth Century”

Report by Katharina Wolf, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC), University of Giessen

Cross-posted from <www.hsozkult.de/conferencereport/id/tagungsberichte-7338>

While there is currently a lot of research on the history of Humanitarianism, its relationship with the analytical category of gender still lacks systematic exploration. The international conference “Gender & Humanitarianism: (Dis-)Empowering Women and Men in the Twentieth Century”, which was funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and held at the Leibniz Institute of European History (Mainz), was organized with the aim of filling this gap in research. It explored how gender shaped and was shaped by humanitarian discourses and practices in the period between the First World War and the end of the Cold War. The conference papers discussed this relationship by emphasizing historiographical issues relating to processes of inclusion and exclusion, adopting multiple transnational perspectives. Integrating humanitarian organizations and actors from across the whole globe, the papers presented had multiple geographical focuses on the Middle East, on India, on Western Europe, as well as on Central and South America.

After a brief introduction to the topic by JOHANNES PAULMANN (Mainz), KATHARINA STORNIG (Giessen) and ESTHER MÖLLER (Mainz), the first panel, dealing with masculinities and femininities in humanitarian discourse and practice, started with two papers discussing the roles of women as relief workers in moments of historical crisis. Focusing on the context of the Armenian genocide and the displacements of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, INGER MARIE OKKENHAUG (Volda) inquired into the interaction between Scandinavian female health care professionals of the Danish and Norwegian Women’s Mission Organization, on the one hand, and female Armenian refugees and relief workers, on the other, between 1925 and 1935 in what is today Lebanon and Syria. She highlighted different forms of cooperation involving close connections and interactions between Armenian and Scandinavian women, while especially stressing the role of religion in the encounter between Lutherans and Armenians. Okkenhaug also discussed the relief workers’ perception of their roles as women and their interaction with male refugees or co-workers.

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Panel on “Children, Childhood and International Humanitarianism in the Transition between War and Peace”

While the historical role of children and notions of childhood in times of war and crises generally constituted an important theme at the Ninth Biennial Conference of the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth (SHCY), one panel was explicitly dedicated to the study of international humanitarianism and attempts to protect children in the transition between war and peace. The panel was organized by Yukako Otori (Harvard University) and Andrée-Ann Plourde (Laval University) and included presenters that had first met in the framework of the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy (GHRA). The panel, which was chaired by the distinguished historian of international child welfare and author of Raising the World: Child Welfare in the American Century (Harvard University Press, 2015) Sara Fieldston, explored the intersection of international attempts to protect children and the history of humanitarianism on the basis of four case studies.

Opening the panel was historian of Africa Stacey Hynd (Exeter University) who discussed the construction of the “child soldier” in the second half of the twentieth century. Presenting rich examples from the involvement of children in armed conflict from the 1950s (the Mau Mau rebellion) to discussions in the United Nations in the mid-1990s, she, firstly, showed how child soldiering was gradually constructed as an African phenomenon. Secondly, tracing how legal, human rights and humanitarian discourses and norms discursively produced the image of the “child soldier”, Hynd argued that it was precisely the divergence of this image from the actual experiences of children actively involved in war that ultimately limited the effectiveness of humanitarian intervention. The intersection of humanitarian campaigning and international legislative efforts also constituted a major theme in the second presentation by Yukako Otori. Exploring the making of international child labor law in the interwar years, Otori not only traced the emergence of a set of conventions against child labor issued by the International Labor Conference, the highest legislative organ of the International Labor Organization (ILO), but also pointed to the limited effectiveness of these conventions when it came to the ratification and enforcement by the individual member states. Yet, as she pointed out, the legislative efforts of the 1920s nonetheless produced significant shifts in the understanding of child labor, which was marked by a growing sensitivity towards non-industrial labor as well as long-terms negative effects such as for instance interrupted schooling. Continue reading

Conference Announcement

Menschen – Bilder – Eine Welt.

Menschenbilder in Missionszeitschriften aus der Zeit des Kaiserreichs

6–8 October, 2016

Leibniz Institute of European History (Mainz)

 

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While recent research has shown great interest in the media dimensions of global movements and transnational campaigns in the twentieth century, we still know only little about the use and function of images in the modern missionary movement. However, already a brief glance at mission periodicals makes clear that missionary organizations were among the first transnational institutions that massively (re)produced, distributed and used large amounts of images from throughout the world in their various printed materials. Already in the nineteenth century, they used selected images (engravings, photographs) for specific ends and placed them in specific medial and communicative contexts, which ranged from certain visions of differentiating and ordering the world’s people to emphasizing Christian ideas of shared humanity.

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