Author: Sean Eedy (Page 2 of 17)

Lost and Fonds. Declassification of Government Records in Canada.

On 16 September 2021, the Bill Graham Centre hosted an important forum entitled Lost and Fonds. Declassification of Government Documents in Canada.  Originally available as a zoom presentation, the Bill Graham Centre has now made the entire forum available on Youtube at this link: Lost and Fonds: Declassification of Government Documents in Canada — Bill Grah Lam Centre (utoronto.ca)

Members of the CNHH will likely already know many of the key speakers, including retired archivist Paul Marsden who has been leading public advocacy work for improved access to government information. In addition to Marsden, the forum included rising academic stars, Susan Colbourn and Tim Sayle, along with Senator Peter Boehm, Ian Wilson, a retired National Archivist, and others. I spoke on historians and their duty to the documentary record, specifically drawing upon my own naval history research and the value of adopting an activist feminist lens to revisit prior research on operational intelligence to discover what I and other historians had missed in previous examinations of open Canadian government records on this topic. 

Here is a summary of the speakers for the session:

2 pm: Welcoming Remarks: John Meehan

2:05: Paul Marsden on “Lost and Fonds”: the LRC article and next steps

2:15 Panel One: Chaired by Tim Sayle:

2:20: Transparency in the Making of National Security Policy: Thomas Juneau

2:30: The Historian’s Task and the Documentary Record: Isabel Campbell

2;40: History and the Policymaker: Sen. Peter Boehm

2:50: Panel Two: Chaired by Ian Wilson

2:55: ATIP and the Historian: Susan Colbourn

3:05: The View from LAC: Daniel German

3:15: The View from OIC: Allison Knight

3:25: Q&A: Moderated by John Meehan

The topic of access to Canadian government records is of interest to all historians as well as to members of the public and especially to advocates for refugees and other vulnerable groups. Without accurate and complete records, it is impossible to evaluate Canadian policies and their historical influences upon vulnerable peoples and others. 

I hope that members of the CNHH will take the time to watch the Youtube video if they did not get a chance to join our zoom session. And also wishing all members the best as we struggle together during this time when historical research has become particularly difficult to undertake.


Isabel Campbell, Senior Historian, Directorate of History and Heritage, National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.

CNHH Presents: Essential Reads in the History of Humanitarianism

Top 6 English-language Works on Children and Humanitarian Aid

~ as recommended by Dominique Marshall, September 2021~

~ With an introduction by Sarah Glassford ~

Although some of the modern world’s earliest humanitarian movements and organizations revolved around adult concerns such as the immorality of chattel slavery or the devastation of war, children quickly emerged as a central focus of certain humanitarian efforts and as powerful ambassadors of need in many others. As Karen Dubinsky writes, children “are as rich in symbolism as they are short on power,”[1] making their perceived suffering an excellent means of mobilizing support for fundraising and awareness campaigns. But they are also people with a degree of agency, who experience their times and circumstances – and the aid thrust upon them – in ways that do not necessarily follow the roles ascribed to them.

What follows is a shortlist of English-language works – some classic and some more recent – that innovatively and sometimes movingly explore the ways children at home and abroad have been recipients, donors, and symbols of humanitarian aid.

Dr. Marshall’s (current) top 6 essential reads, in order of publication:

1. Joy Parr. Labouring Children: British Immigrant Apprentices to Canada, 1869-1924. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1980.

This classic study of orphaned and working-class British children sent to Canada as apprentices and adoptees provides a very well-rounded view of the (not always positive) outcomes of child-saving adults’ good intentions and authority. It also emphasizes the impact of class on childhood – particularly for the children of the poor.

2. J.R. Miller. Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Another classic study, this one is about assimilationist institutions for Indigenous children that were claimed in their time to be a form of Canadian humanitarianism at home. Although there are now more recent, and more critical, works on the residential schools, Miller’s chapter on the resistance of the children is still full of meaning and good questions.

3. Erica Bornstein. The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe. New York: Routledge, 2003.

An anthropological and sociological study of two religious, transnational NGOs in Zimbabwe, Bornstein’s study offers an excellent on-the-ground view of the roles of both sponsors and sponsored children/families, that prompts new ways of thinking about humanitarian images, actions, and consequences.

4. David M. Rosen. Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism. Rutgers Series in Childhood Studies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

The question of child soldiers is all too often oversimplified. Rosen’s study unpacks the many complicated dimensions of this phenomenon, including how a variety of political groups in Africa have argued in different ways for the rights of children, and the decisions made by children themselves.

5. Karen J. Sanchez-Eppler. “Copying and Conversion: An 1824 Friendship Album ‘from a Chinese Youth.’” American Quarterly 59, 2 (2007): 301-339.

Sanchez-Eppler’s careful study of a friendship album created at a Connecticut school that trained “heathen” youths to be foreign missionaries, interpreters, doctors, and teachers is a wonderful model for how to approach and mine primary sources for evidence of children’s expressions and emotions – even in what might appear to be conventional copy-work or formulaic sentiments.

6. Matthew Hilton. “Ken Loach and the Save the Children Film: Humanitarianism, Imperialism, and the Changing Role of Charity in Postwar Britain.” The Journal of Modern History 87, 2 (2015): 357-394.

Hilton’s valuable article examines the first fifty years of Britain’s Save the Children through the lens of a 1969 documentary by Ken Loach that framed SCF’s work in Africa as a form of imperialism. The Loach film and Hilton’s article both highlight how domestic social policies and humanitarian endeavours proceed from the same attitudes. There is much more to say in this area – for instance, with respect to the teaching of lip-reading (rather than sign language) to deaf children, as documented in Lindsay Anderson and Guy Brenton’s 1954 short documentary Thursday’s Children (about The Royal School for the Deaf in Margate, UK).

_____________________

Dr. Dominique Marshall is Professor of History at Carleton University, where she teaches and researches the histories of social policy, children’s rights, humanitarian aid, refugees, disability, and technology. She is the founder and coordinator of the Canadian Network on Humanitarian History, and served as president of the Canadian Historical Association 2013-2015. Her book, Aux origines sociales de l’État providence (1998) [available in English as The Social Origins of the Welfare State (2006)] received the Jean-Charles Falardeau Prize (now Canada Prize) from the Canadian Federation of Social Sciences and Humanities. Among many other organizations and projects, she is a member of the advisory board of Resilient Humanitarianism funded by the Australian Research Council, and of the teaching website Recipro: the history of international and humanitarian aid

Dr. Sarah Glassford is the Archivist in Leddy Library’s Archives & Special Collections at the University of Windsor, and a social historian of modern Canada whose published works include Mobilizing Mercy: A History of the Canadian Red Cross (2017). She would like to officially thank Dominique for introducing her to the formal study of humanitarian history (ca. 2008, when Sarah was a postdoctoral fellow at Carleton’s neighbouring institution, the University of Ottawa) and for looping her into many shared projects and networking opportunities ever after.


[1] Karen Dubinsky, “Children, Ideology, and Iconography: How Babies Rule the World,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 5, 1 (2012): 8.

International Solidarity from a Feminist and Anti-Racist Perspective

The Social Change Hub 

presents:

“International Solidarity from a Feminist and Anti-Racist Perspective” 

by 

Dr. Maïka SondarjeeProfessor in the School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

4-5:30pm

All welcome!

on-line event 

(see Teams link below)

Dr. Sondarjee’s research addresses the inclusion of local populations in development policymaking at the World Bank, the marginalization of feminist research in International Relations, the white savior complex in international development, as well as the inequalities supported by the institutionalized world order.  She was was a Banting postdoctoral fellow at the Department of political science and Centre de recherches et d’études internationales, Université de Montréal in 2020-21, is a Board Member of the NGO Alternatives, is co-founder of the organization Femmes Expertes, a member of the SSHRC programs’ committee, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID).

If you would like more information please contact Marie-Camille Théorêt (mtheoret20@ubishops.ca) or Bruce Gilbert (bgilbrert@ubishops.ca). Thanks!

The Social Change Hub organizes talks, workshops and other events at Bishop’s on themes of social justice. 
https://teams.microsoft.com/l/meetup-join/19%3ameeting_NzI3Y2JlM2YtODkyNi00OTAwLTkwZDYtYzBmNmQxMTJjMDIy%40thread.v2/0?context=%7b%22Tid%22%3a%2260409c15-dd37-4640-975b-9eaa707437b7%22%2c%22Oid%22%3a%2233f0ad06-2c73-47e9-bc57-c72bc0c352d8%22%7d

Upcoming Talk on Canada’s first NGO, the Overseas Book Centre

On 5 November 2021 at 4pm ET, Jody Mason (Department of English, Carleton University) will deliver the 2021 Canadian Literature Centre Scholarly Lecture, hosted by the University of Alberta. This event will take place on Zoom.

Dr. Mason’s talk, “The ‘Creative Crusade’: Settler Colonial Antinomies and Books for Development in the Age of Three Worlds,” examines the postwar book donation schemes created by Canada’s first NGO, the Overseas Book Centre.

You can register for the meeting using this link: 
https://ualberta-ca.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJElc-2upjsoEtHAzQtD8Z0BKLxhCeACQUP2 

CNHH Presents: Essential Reads in the History of Humanitarianism

Top 5 Histories of National Red Cross Societies in the English-Speaking West

~ as recommended by Sarah Glassford, September 2021 ~


The history of international-level Red Cross activity received scholarly attention beginning in the last decades of the 20th century, but national Red Cross societies long remained the preserve of celebratory tributes written by amateurs and enthusiasts. Only in the last decade have scholarly histories of national-level Red Cross societies begun to appear, largely focused on countries in the English-speaking West where the movement first took root. These histories shed light on the history of humanitarianism at every level, from the local to the global, linking grassroots volunteers fundraising at home to those suffering from conflict, disaster, poverty, and ill-health around the world.

For my money, there are the currently five “essential reads” in this growing field. Each one is based on extensive archival research, is written in English about a predominantly English-speaking country, and the resulting book is “not a hagiography but, rather, a fair-minded and scholarly addition.”[i] Collectively they offer opportunities to compare and contrast the implementation of a transnational ideology across a variety of national contexts and time periods. As more studies – ideally about countries not formerly part of the British empire – appear, the opportunities for such cross-cultural and cross-national comparisons will only increase.

Here are my (current) top 5 essential reads, in order of publication:

1. Moser Jones, Marian. The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

Moser Jones, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, channels her interest in the social history and ethics of institutional benevolence into this study of the founding years of the American Red Cross. This study offers an exhaustively detailed examination of the ARC’s wide-ranging humanitarian activities at home and abroad, alongside its tumultuous internal politics.

2. Irwin, Julia F. Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Irwin, a professor at the University of South Florida, brings to this study her expertise in US foreign relations. This work powerfully demonstrates how American Red Cross humanitarian aid overseas became a potent arm of the country’s larger foreign policy during the first half of the 20th century, and an outlet for some Americans’ desire to engage with the world.

3. Oppenheimer, Melanie. The Power of Humanity: 100 Years of Australian Red Cross, 1914-2014. HarperCollins, 2014.

Oppenheimer, a professor at Flinders University, was commissioned to write this anniversary volume by the Australian Red Cross, in which she brings to bear her expertise in the histories of gender, voluntary aid, and imperialism in times of war and peace. Despite the book’s overall celebratory theme, Oppenheimer examines the organization’s failures and limitations alongside its triumphs.

4. Tennant, Margaret, Across the Street, Across the World: A History of the Red Cross in New Zealand, 1915-2015. New Zealand Red Cross, 2015.

Tennant, a professor emerita at Massey University, was commissioned to write this anniversary volume by the New Zealand Red Cross. Her expertise as a historian of voluntary aid, social welfare, and women’s history results in a clear-eyed and fair assessment of the organization’s work at home and abroad.

5. Glassford, Sarah. Mobilizing Mercy: A History of the Canadian Red Cross. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.

(Am I biased on this one? Of course!) My own book follows the evolution of the Canadian Red Cross as an organization and its humanitarian work at home and overseas over the better part of a century. My interest in the histories of women, children, wartime, volunteering, and health is evident throughout.

Bonus: Two More to Watch!

  • Lahane, Shane. A History of the Irish Red Cross. Four Courts Press, 2019.

I discovered this one while looking up publication information for the books listed above and it sounds like another winner, blending social, cultural, health, and institutional history. Lahane is a graduate of University College Cork and has also published on the Great Famine in Ireland’s County Kerry.

  • Cresswell, Rosemary. The History of the British Red Cross, 1870-2020: Health and Humanitarianism. Bloomsbury, forthcoming in 2023.

Another commissioned anniversary study, this one looks set to follow in the tradition of Oppenheimer and Tennant, placing institutional accomplishments and failures in larger national and international contexts. Cresswell is a research fellow at the University of Warwick who specializes in the history of health and humanitarianism in modern Britain.

_____________________

Dr. Sarah Glassford is the Archivist for the Leddy Library Archives & Special Collections at the University of Windsor. She is also a social historian of modern Canada whose published works include Mobilizing Mercy: A History of the Canadian Red Cross (MQUP, 2017), as well as two essay collections co-edited with Amy Shaw: A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the First World War (UBC Press, 2012), and Making the Best of It: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the Second World War (UBC Press, 2020).


[i] Anne MacLellan, “We Are All Brothers,” Irish Literary Supplement, 40, 1 (Fall 2020): 18.

CNHH Presents: Essential Reads in the History of Humanitarianism

Top 5 Introductory/Overview Works in the History of Humanitarianism

~ as recommended by Sarah Glassford, September 2021 ~


Looking to understand the long history of humanitarianism, but not sure where to start? Baffled by today’s complex humanitarian aid landscape? Look no further. The field of humanitarian history is dynamic and growing, but a handful of works will help English-language readers get a handle on what’s what and why it turned out that way.

What follows is a shortlist of works suitable to introduce scholars, students, and/or the general public to the history of humanitarianism from its origins in the late 18th century anti-slavery movement to the “complex humanitarian emergencies” and long-term development work of the early 21st century. Their respective bibliographies offer suggestions for further, more specialized, reading.

Here are my (current) top 5 essential reads, in order of publication:

1. John F. Hutchinson. Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross. Westview Press, 1996.

The late John Hutchinson’s clear-eyed, critical examination of the complicated origins and deeply political evolution of one of the modern world’s most significant humanitarian players was a pioneering effort of its kind. Subsequent scholars have had access to sources from which Hutchinson was barred, but his work still stands up, and has inspired many historians of the Red Cross and other major aid organizations.

2. James Orbinski. An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century. Anchor Canada, 2009.

In contrast to the other works on this list, the great strength of Orbinski’s volume is that it is openly and deeply personal. A long-time humanitarian worker in the field and leader within Médécins Sans Frontières and other aid organizations, Orbinski takes the reader to the frontlines in Rwanda, Sudan, and Kosovo, vividly portraying the compassion, politics, and moral dilemmas of contemporary humanitarian aid.

3. Michael Barnett. Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism. Cornell University Press, 2011.

In this foundational attempt to trace the origins and evolution of humanitarianism over several centuries, Barnett outlines a useful periodization and notes key turning points, while also providing a thought-provoking framework for understanding the paradoxes (and frequent failings) of humanitarianism – especially its paternalism. An excellent starting point that lays out the important roles of economics, politics, and sentiment in shaping humanitarian thought and action, it influenced a host of subsequent studies.

4. Heide Fehrenbach and Davide Rodogno, eds. Humanitarian Photography: A History. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Visual imagery as a means to convey the depths of suffering humanity and appeal to the generosity and compassion of potential donors is absolutely central to the history of humanitarianism. This pioneering collection of essays on the history of humanitarian photography (including cinema and other elements of visual culture) is therefore a valuable resource for understanding the larger history of humanitarianism. Case studies in the volume range from imperial evangelicals to contemporary photographers.

5. Salvatici, Silvia. A History of Humanitarianism, 1755-1989: In the Name of Others. Manchester University Press, 2019.

Another valuable overview, Salvatici integrates the many insights that emerged from the explosion of studies following Barnett’s 2011 book. The two works are largely complementary in terms of turning points and periodization, but Salvatici challenges the idea of a “golden age” of humanitarianism prior to the end of the Cold War and gives more time to discontinuities and contradictions along the way. The influences of colonialism and the postcolonial order are given particular attention.

_____________________

Dr. Sarah Glassford is the Archivist for the Leddy Library Archives & Special Collections at the University of Windsor. She is also a social historian of modern Canada whose published works include Mobilizing Mercy: A History of the Canadian Red Cross (MQUP, 2017), as well as two essay collections co-edited with Amy Shaw: A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the First World War (UBC Press, 2012), and Making the Best of It: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the Second World War (UBC Press, 2020).

Full-Time Co-op/FSWEP Opportunity | Center for International Digital Policy

AREAS OF WORK: The Digital Inclusion Lab is a team within Global Affairs Canada’s Centre for International Digital Policy. The Lab works on issues at the intersection of digital technology and foreign policy, with a human rights, democracy, and inclusion lens. The multidisciplinary team works in a creative, fast-paced environment, which requires flexibility and adaptability. The Lab collaborates with other government departments, non-governmental experts in civil society, academia and the private sector, and other states to address democracy and human rights in the context of digital technologies.

BENEFIT TO STUDENTS: The intern will have a chance to be part of a team that shapes Canadian foreign policy approaches through research and analysis. It will provide the successful candidate with the opportunity to learn about policy making and apply his/her academic skills to solving concrete policy challenges.

LOCATION: Due to restrictions related to COVID-19, the co-op/FSWEP term will be remote.

RATE OF PAY: Based on Treasury Board Secretariat guidelines for student employment. https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/pay/rates-pay/student-rates-pay.html

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND: Political science, international relations, development studies, conflict studies, gender studies, law, history, and other related fields.

JOB DESCRIPTION:

  • Support the work of the Digital Inclusion Lab with research, analysis, and advocacy on key issues at the intersection of digital technology and human rights.
  • Assist in the organization and preparation of briefing materials (i.e., research notes, summaries, briefing notes, talking points) for high-level events and meetings.
  • Build external relationships that foster collaboration with academics, private sector, and civil society actors to amplify the relevance and potential impact of Canadian policy.

ESSENTIAL SKILLS/QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Graduate students with a full-time student status for the Winter 2022 term (January – April)
  • Knowledge of international relations and/or human rights and/or digital technology
  • Excellent written and verbal communication in English and/or French
  • Highly developed research, organizational and analytical skills
  • Ability to prioritize work under pressure, both independently and within a team
  • Strong judgement
  • Strong ability to cooperate and collaborate with others
  • Strong attention to detail

PREFERRED SKILLS/QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Some prior knowledge of one of the policy areas of the Centre’s focus (emerging technology and geopolitics, internet governance, digital inclusion).
  • Understanding of the way technology impacts foreign policy or strong interest to learn more about these issues.
  • Strong knowledge of social media and digital technology and their impact on policy issues.

CONDITION OF EMPLOYMENT:

  • Canadian Citizenship
  • Securing the necessary security clearance

HOW TO APPLY: Please submit in a combined PDF file the following: 1) a cover letter that indicates how you meet the essential skills and qualifications; and 2) your resume in English or French to DigitalInclusionLab@international.gc.ca. Please confirm in your cover letter that you hold Canadian citizenship and advise if you currently hold a Government of Canada Security Clearance (please specify which level).

CLOSING DATE: Wednesday September 29th


Laboratoire d’inclusion numérique : Stage à temps plein/FSWEP

DOMAINES DE TRAVAIL: Le Labo d’inclusion numérique est une équipe au sein du Centre pour la Politique Numérique internationale d’Affaires mondiales Canada. Le labo travaille sur des questions à l’intersection de la technologie numérique et de la politique étrangère, dans une optique de droits de la personne, de démocratie et d’inclusion. L’équipe multidisciplinaire travaille dans un environnement créatif et rapide, ce qui exige souplesse et adaptabilité. Le laboratoire collabore avec d’autres ministères, des experts non gouvernementaux de la société civile, du monde universitaire et du secteur privé, ainsi qu’avec d’autres États, afin d’aborder la démocratie et les droits de la personne dans le contexte des technologies numériques.

AVANTAGE POUR LES ÉTUDIANTS: Le stagiaire aura la chance de faire partie d’une équipe qui façonne les approches de la politique étrangère canadienne par la recherche et l’analyse. Le candidat retenu aura l’occasion de se familiariser avec l’élaboration des politiques et d’appliquer ses compétences universitaires à la résolution de défis politiques concrets.

LIEU: En raison des restrictions liées à COVID-19, le stage coopératif/FSWEP se déroulera à distance.

TAUX DE RÉMUNÉRATION: Selon les lignes directrices du Secrétariat du Conseil du Trésor pour l’emploi des étudiants. https://www.canada.ca/fr/secretariat-conseil-tresor/services/remuneration/taux-remuneration/taux-remuneration-etudiants.html

FORMATION: Sciences politiques, relations internationales, études sur le développement, études sur les conflits, études sur le genre, droit, histoire et autres domaines connexes.

DESCRIPTION DU POSTE :

  • Soutenir le travail du labo d’inclusion numérique avec la recherche, l’analyse et le plaidoyer sur les questions clés à l’intersection de la technologie numérique et des droits de la personne.
  • Aider à l’organisation et à la préparation de documents d’information (c’est-à-dire des notes de recherche, des résumés, des notes d’information, des points de discussion) pour des événements et des réunions de haut niveau.
  • Établir des relations externes qui favorisent la collaboration avec des universitaires, des acteurs du secteur privé et de la société civile afin d’amplifier la pertinence et l’impact potentiel des politiques canadiennes.

COMPÉTENCES/QUALIFICATIONS ESSENTIELLES :

  • Étudiants diplômés ayant un statut d’étudiant à temps plein pour le trimestre d’hiver 2022 (entre janvier et avril)
  • Connaissance des relations internationales et/ou des droits de la personne et/ou des technologies numériques.
  • Excellente communication écrite et verbale en anglais et/ou en français
  • Compétences très développées en matière de recherche, d’organisation et d’analyse
  • Capacité à hiérarchiser le travail sous pression, à la fois de manière indépendante et au sein d’une équipe.
  • Capacité de jugement
  • Forte capacité à coopérer et à collaborer avec d’autres personnes
  • Forte attention aux détails

COMPÉTENCES/QUALIFICATIONS PRÉFÉRÉES :

  • Une certaine connaissance préalable de l’un des domaines d’action du Centre (technologies émergentes et géopolitique, gouvernance de l’internet, inclusion numérique).
  • Compréhension de l’impact des technologies numériques sur la politique étrangère ou intérêt marqué pour en savoir plus sur ces questions.
  • Solide connaissance des médias sociaux et de la technologie numérique et de leur impact sur les questions de politique.

CONDITION D’EMPLOI :

  • Citoyenneté canadienne
  • Obtention de l’habilitation de sécurité nécessaire

COMMENT POSTULER: Veuillez soumettre dans un fichier PDF combiné les éléments suivants : 1) une lettre de présentation qui indique comment vous répondez aux compétences et qualifications essentielles ; et 2) votre curriculum vitae en anglais ou en français à DigitalInclusionLab@international.gc.ca. Veuillez confirmer dans votre lettre de présentation que vous avez la citoyenneté canadienne et indiquer si vous détenez actuellement une autorisation de sécurité du gouvernement du Canada (veuillez préciser le niveau).

DATE DE CLÔTURE : Mercredi le 29 septembre

Was it really “different back then?” Reflecting on current global health ethics with a NFB film about CUSO, 1965

Sonya de Laat

Cross-posted with the Canadian Historical Association.

Humanitarian aid work—particularly healthcare and disaster response—necessary requires focus on the present in order to respond to crises that are often acute or emergent. Sustained focus on the immediate has given the impression that the aid sector is ahistorical. Without historical perspective, aid workers run the risk of not responding appropriately or perpetuating injustices, thus harming those they are meant to help. There is, however, a growing interest by aid workers and organizations in history: of their practice and of affected populations. Historical perspectives can lead to more contextually and culturally relevant change that address root causes of the situation. Particularly in the current era of decolonization and anti-racism, learning different histories becomes almost a moral imperative for aid workers. Given this growing interest, how does one instill a sense of value in history on the part of the next generation of humanitarian and development aid professionals?

This blog post emerged out of the recent CNHH panel part of the Canadian Historical Association conference held online in the spring. In response to the theme of public engagement, this is a look at how the 1965 National Film Board film, You Don’t Back Down, is employed in undergraduate global health ethics education. For many students who have their sights set on becoming healthcare providers in global disaster and crisis settings, it is also an introduction to histories of humanitarian and development aid work. For learners who are decidedly future focused, the aim of the ethics lesson is also to instill a respect for historical thinking  and to incorporate it as a valued component their practice.

All images in this blog are screen shots from the film “You Don’t Back Down,” included by permission of the NFB.

In this, the first of a two-part blog, I begin with a brief contextualization of the ethics lessons, followed by a summary of the film and an overview of the classroom discussions. I conclude with a reflection on the value of historical thinking and incorporating visual histories in global health ethics education.

The context

For the past three years, a colleague and I from the Humanitarian Health Ethics research group have been providing guest lectures on global health and humanitarian health ethics in Bachelor of Health Sciences course. We were initially approached by a former director of MSF Canada who had been teaching the course who stated that upward of 50% of volunteers did not return for a second overseas experience. This attrition had been linked at least in some instances to feeling unprepared, unsupported and left uncertain about decisions made in ethically troubling situations. The course in which lessons are taught is a second-year undergraduate course in which students come with little critical awareness of medical-based aid work and even less historical knowledge of short-term, international medical practice experiences. In the lessons, we take a case study approach, which is a conventional approach to ethics education, that is preceded by an overview of a brief survey of moral philosophy theories related to global health. Cases help generate discussion, which is a fundamental part of resolving (mitigate or manage) ethical dilemmas. Cases presented are predominantly text based, but we also present a short film as another form of a narrative based case. The film itself acts as a case study helping students recognize unethical practice and means of applying the principles we present to them in the theory part of the lesson.

Briefly: what are ‘global health ethics’? Global Health ethics can be described as building on public health ethics and foundational bioethics but with what Solomon Benatar calls “global state of mind” (Benatar in Pinto and Upshur 2009). Pinto and Upshur (2009) have further added principles and values particularly relevant to learners of global health ethics including : humility, introspection, solidarity, and social justice . Further guidance on global health and humanitarian ethics can be found in the resources provided by the Canadian Association of Global health CAGH: equity, inclusion, shared benefit, authentic partnership, commitment to the future and responsiveness to causes of inequity.

The film

Filmed in a cinema verité style, You Don’t Back Down (Don Owen, director, 1965, 28 minutes) follows newlyweds Dr. Alex McMahon and his wife Anne, a teacher, during an undisclosed point in their two-years overseas commitment with CUSO (Canadian Universities Service Overseas) in newly independent Nigeria.

Over the course of the film, we see 27-yr-old Dr. McMahon consult with patients plagued by overgrown tumours and strange skin ailments. We tag along as he makes his rounds at the Mary Slessor hospital where he and a (Scottish) doctor are apparently the only physicians. And we watch him perform surgeries. Meanwhile, we see his wife Anne do some shopping at the market, then balance pots and navigate smoke in her little kitchen as she prepares a meal. 

Throughout, we see the benefits of CUSO’s presence in, according to narrator Robin Spry, “Helping a developing nation in concrete ways.” We see crowds of patients seeking treatment, and we are shown the doctor perform various tasks, suggesting diligence and dedication. The film reaches a climax when Dr. McMahon performs emergency surgery in the middle of the night with his European colleague.

We also are witness to the struggles the couple face in terms of culture shock, isolation and homesickness. Both Alex and Anne at separate moments talk of their struggles to find themselves at home in a culture so different from their own. With Anne at one point turning away from the camera—head in hand—saying, “I just want to go home”. Alex is filmed stating, “There are lots of days I would give anything and head home, that’s for sure.” 

In those moments of frankness, Alex admits to having overcome or managed fears and doubts: “You come over so ignorant before. I come over here and drink anything, I wonder, ‘Is it boiled, or filtered?’ Before I eat any food, ‘Does it have unboiled water in it?’ I look at any vegetables, ‘Is it covered with E.coli?’ Oh, it will drive you nuts because you’re so suspicious of everything and it takes a while to get used to it. Then you find that the food really is food, and it doesn’t really make much difference.”

He also shares his biggest fear, coming up against a challenge—medical or otherwise (he doesn’t specify)—that he won’t be able to handle. That’s when he says, so as to steel himself, “You don’t back down, you can’t.” While this statement is where the film gets its name, it is also a point at which the doctor is faced with potentially ethically contentious decisions to be made. This position he finds himself in, as well as that of everyone else in the film, leads to a host of quandaries that students begin to pick up on a morally problematic and in need of sustained discussion.   

Be sure to read Part Two of this blog, which looks at a summary of the in-class discussions and a reflection on the value of historical thinking and incorporating visual histories in global health ethics education.

Reference for Part 1:

Pinto, A. D., & Upshur, R. E. G. (2009). Global health ethics for students. Developing World Bioethics9(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-8847.2007.00209.x

“Making Connections with the Public: Alternative Approaches to Learning History”, The Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting; Sponsored by the Canadian Network on Humanitarian History, Online, 31 May 2021.

Sonya de Laat is a scholar of visual culture related to humanitarian action, global health and international development. She is the Global Health graduate academic advisor and a sessional lecturer at McMaster University. She is also an active member of the Canadian Network on Humanitarian History housed at Carleton U and an investigator with the Humanitarian Health Ethics research group based at McMaster and McGill universities. She is interested in the role of visuals—particularly photography—in histories of moral and practical dimensions of aid. Recognizing limitations inherent in the medium, Dr. de Laat’s work draws attention to the potential in photography to draw attention to ways in which we can secure a more equitable and compassionate world. Recent publications include “The camera and the Red Cross: ‘Lamentable pictures’ and conflict photography bring into focus an international movement, 1855–1865” (2021) in the International Review of the Red Cross, “Pictures in Development: The Canadian International Development Agency’s Photo Library” in The Samaritan State Revisited (2019) and “Seeing Refugees: Using Old Photographs to Gain New Perspectives on Refugees, Past and Present” (2018) available on ActiveHistory.ca

Digital Pre-Panel I “Governing Humanitarianism – Past, Present and Future”

In preparation for the Herrenhausen Conference “Governing Humanitarianism” in 2022, two online pre-panels will take place on September 27 and 28. Scholars from various disciplines and practitioners in humanitarian sectors are invited to join this years’ online event.

In the last two decades, humanitarianism and human rights have crystallized as two flourishing fields of research within various disciplines. Both concepts have been the subject of a lively international debate among political scientists, legal scholars, and historians, concerning their respective histories, nature, and impacts. Humanitarianism and human rights are often presented as opposing terms, and sometimes even as rival concepts, by scholars advocates on both sides. Such definitions typically present humanitarianism as resting upon a discourse of charity and suffering, while human rights are based on a discourse of solidarity and justice. Yet despite their differences, both concepts also share some similar historical origins and developments. Perhaps most importantly, both embody entangled notions of humanity. Despite the academic efforts to draw clear line between them, the boundaries between aid, relief, and rights remain both blurred and complicated.

The main goal of this digital panel is to discuss this complex relationship from various disciplinary perspectives. Rather than highlighting the differences between humanitarianism and human rights, leading experts from political science, international law, and international history will focus on the manifold overlaps and links between the two fields. When and how did these concepts compete and reinforce each other? In what ways did the emergence of humanitarian norms influence and contribute to the global emergence of international human rights law? What entanglements, dilemmas, and tensions emerge out of various competing concepts of humanitarianism and global human rights? And finally, how does this entwined history influence our landscape of international politics and crisis management today?

The digital panel “Human Rights and Humanitarianism – a Complicated Relationship?” is part of the Herrenhausen Conference “Governing Humanitarianism – Past, Present and Future,” funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.

A link to join the discussions will be published on the Volkswagen Foundation website at the beginning of September 2021. This digital pre-panel as part of the upcoming 2022 Herrenhausen Conference on “Human Rights and Humanitarianism – a Complicated Relationship?” will be held on 27 September 2021, 3:30-5pm. More information, including panel participants and bios, registration, and conference details can be found on the conference website.

Talk on Mennonites, Canada, and the founding of Disabled People International on October 1st

Henry Enns (left) and Jim Derksen (right), DPI First Assembly, Singapore, 1981.

The Carleton University Disability Research Group (CUDRG) is pleased to announce an upcoming talk by member Dr. Ryan Patterson, “Transnational Representation: MCC Canada and the founding of Disabled Peoples’ International, 1981”. The talk will be held online along with two others as part of the MCC@100 Conference panel “MCC as Incubator and Catalyst” on Friday, October 1st, 2021, 7pm-9pm. Attendees are asked to register (free) here

Based on participant interviews and archival research, this talk will explore how, in 1981, the Winnipeg-based Mennonite Central Committee of Canada (MCCC) became pivotal to the founding of the worldwide non-profit Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI). Along with material funding, the MCCC offered contacts and credibility in the non-profit world and, most importantly, sustained support for talented individuals at the heart of the early DPI. 

Dr. Patterson has also published an article on this subject, available on the CUDRG website: “Transnational Representation” (Carleton University Disability Research Group, open access, February 2020). 

Canada postage stamp issued in May 1980 in recognition of the upcoming Fourteenth World Congress of Rehabilitation International planned for June in Winnipeg.

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