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

New Volume: “Humanitarianism & Media. 1900 to the Present” edited by Johannes Paulmann

Cross-posted from

From Christian missionary publications to the media strategies employed by today’s NGOs, this new interdisciplinary volume edited by Johannes Paulmann explores the entangled histories of humanitarianism and media. The book traces the emergence of humanitarian imagery in the West and investigates how the meanings of suffering and aid have been constructed in a period of evolving mass communication, demonstrating the extent to which many seemingly new phenomena in fact have long historical legacies. Ultimately, the critical histories collected here help to challenge existing asymmetries and help those who advocate a new cosmopolitan consciousness recognizing the dignity and rights of others.


Introduction: Humanitarianism and Media: Introduction to an Entangled History
Johannes Paulmann


Chapter 1. Promoting Distant Children in Need: Christian Imagery in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
Katharina Stornig

Chapter 2. “Make the situation real to us without stressing the horrors”: Children, Photography and Humanitarianism in the Spanish Civil War
Rose Holmes

Chapter 3. Humanitarianism on the Screen: The ICRC Films, 1921–1965
Daniel Palmieri

Chapter 4. “People who once were human beings like you and me”: Why Allied Atrocity Films of Liberated Nazi Concentration Camps in 1944–46 Maximized the Horror and Universalized the Victims
Ulrike Weckel

Chapter 5. The Polemics of Pity: British Photographs of Berlin, 1945–1947
Paul Betts

Chapter 6. The Human Gaze: Photography after 1945
Tobias Weidner


Chapter 7. On Fishing in Other Peoples Ponds: The Freedom from Hunger Campaign, International Fundraising, and the Ethics of NGO Publicity
Heike Wieters

Chapter 8. Advocacy Strategies of Western Humanitarian NGOs from the 1960s to the 1990s
Valérie Gorin

Chapter 9. Humanitarianism and Revolution: Samed, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and the Work of Liberation
Ilana Feldman

Chapter 10. Mediatisation of Disasters and Humanitarian Aid in the Federal Republic of Germany
Patrick Merziger

Chapter 11. NGOs, Celebrity Humanitarianism, and the Media: Negotiating Conflicting Perceptions of Aid and Development during the “Ethiopian Famine”
Matthias Kuhnert

Chapter 12. The Audience of Distant Suffering and the Question of (In)Action
Maria Kyriakidou


“This volume consists of timely, useful, original contributions by historians, media scholars and anthropologists that will be essential reading for students”. • Davide Rodogno, Graduate Institute of Geneva

“Based on substantial archival research and informed by relevant theoretical debates, this thought-provoking volume engages the reader in an interdisciplinary exploration of the central role the media have played for humanitarian initiatives, contributing significantly to recent scholarship on the subject”. • Nina Berman, Arizona State University