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).
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.
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND: Political science, international relations, development studies, conflict studies, gender studies, law, history, and other related fields.
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.
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 ability to cooperate and collaborate with others
Strong attention to detail
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:
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:WednesdaySeptember 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.
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 :
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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).
Prof. Robert Wardhaugh, Department of History Prof. Nina Reid-Maroney, Department of History, Huron University College Prof. Erica Lawson, Undergraduate Chair – Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Prof. Michele Johnson, Associate Dean, Student – York University – Department of History
Chair: Prof. Michael Boffa, Department of Biochemistry
Please join us in supporting PhD Candidate, Nassisse Solomon, at her public lecture.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Network of Humanitarian History’s (CNHH) seventh annual meeting was held virtually through the video conferencing platform Zoom. The virtual format of this year’s meeting resulted in a record high turnout with a number of overseas partners joining the meeting, demonstrating one of the rare benefits of the pandemic.
This was noted during the planning for the Canadian Historical Association’s (CHA) 2022 conference, where the goal is to have an Africa-centred panel as there has never been an area-focused panel focusing on development aid and humanitarianism in Africa. Organizers of the panel are considering the possibility of having a partially virtual format as that would allow for greater participation.
Digital media was central to a lot of the discussions that took place during the meeting. Dominique has recently collaborated with Nicolas Lépine, an Associate Professor of History at Lakehead University on Recipro – a collaborative teaching website, meanwhile, Jill undertook the important role of overhauling and modernizing CNHH’s website, which is currently seeking blog contributions.
In terms of future projects, suggestions for a larger, more comprehensive project that explores the history of Canadian development efforts and a project focusing on visual histories were discussed. Under normal circumstances, CNHH tries to partner with local NGOs from the region where the annual meeting is being held, however, with the current remote environment, any NGOs, regardless of their location, are welcome to collaborate. Sarah Glassford, an archivist at the University of Windsor, talked about the value of establishing connections with NGOs as these connections often become long-term partnerships.
This meeting served as a wonderful example of the ability to productively adapt to the turbulent times we are currently living in. Throughout the discussions taking place at this meeting, CNHH members demonstrated the many ways that our current remote and digital environment has helped to eradicate some barriers to participation and collaboration, bringing the development community closer together.
Anna Kozlova is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Carleton University. She was the lead researcher on the MITACS-funded project “Two case studies in the public history of international development policies in Canada: the Lebanese Special Measures Program (1975-1990) and The Life of Lewis Perinbam (1925-2008).”
The Disaster Lab is a historical research project headed by CNHH member Laura Madokoro. The project explores the history of disasters and interrogates the role of migration and citizenship in how state and civil society actors have responded in times of strife.
Building on the Canadian Disaster Database maintained by Public Safety Canada, this project explores how disasters have been perceived, defined and addressed historically by the federal government in Canada while also considering the lived experience of disasters through the eyes of the communities, humanitarians, civil society actors and rescuers who shaped the short and long-term responses to tragedy.
Inspired by very real climate change crisis confronting our global community, and the prospect of hundreds of thousands of environmental refugees in the coming years, this project seeks to learn and better understand historic responses to disasters at the local, provincial, federal and global levels.
Supported by an Early Researcher Award from the Government of Ontario (2021 – 2026), this project invites a dialogue among scholars and communities interested in understanding the impact of disasters historically and how we might reflect upon our current and future circumstances.
The project will be launching soon. Details will soon be on the project’s official website.
Interrogating Power Structures in Aid and Multilateral Institutions
Thursday, 8 July 2021
12.00-17.30 (Irish Time)
Online, via Zoom
What does it mean to embody a lived approach to global solidarity and equal partnership in humanitarian action and advocacy? This workshop, organised by Dóchas and the School of History & Philosophy at NUI Galway, brings together leading voices from the worlds of professional humanitarianism, diplomacy, activism and academia in conversation on three key areas: human rights, multilateralism and the climate crisis. The workshop is funded by the Irish Research Council (New Foundations grant).
Confirmed speakers include:
Hugo Slim (University of Oxford)
Sonja Hyland (Political Director, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
Bulelani Mfaco (MASI – Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland)
Tara Rao (Our Ground Works)
Nishanie Jayamaha (Programme Co-ordinator, Climate and Environment Change and Civil Society Space, International Council of Voluntary Agencies)
On June 17, CFPI will be hosting “International Solidarity Now: A gathering for a more just Canadian foreign policy.”
This live event features presentations from Leap co-founder Avi Lewis, Halifax poet El Jones, and Toronto organizer John Clarke on the importance of international activism. The event will also feature short presentations from over a dozen organizations like MiningWatch Canada, Project Ploughshares, and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, highlighting how they are helping to build a more just Canadian foreign policy.
Join us and hear from organizers across the country working towards a foreign policy based on peace and human rights.
Since Canada’s defeat in its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council there has been growth in critical foreign policy discussion & activism. But much more is still required. “International Solidarity Now!” is a gathering of antiwar, mining justice, and international solidarity organizations that aims to connect, strengthen and amplify our collective efforts. Join us and learn about Canada’s movement for a foreign policy based on peace & human rights.
Event is free and open to the public.
The CNHH is one of the many groups proudly participating in this event.