Histories of Humanitarianism

The history of humanitarianism has lately become a growth area.

Staff and students in HCRI and the History Department collaborate in the research group on Histories of Humanitarianism. Our research explores practices, representations, and concepts related to humanitarian action in diverse global settings across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It reflects Manchester’s distinctive expertise in histories of humanitarianism that cross disciplinary boundaries and connect historical perspectives to current events.

Belgian refugees 1914
Belgian refugees, 1914.

Our research interests include:

  • Relief practices, such as responses to conflict, famine, and natural disasters, how local and transnational networks respond in times of crisis, and how such practices have evolved over time;
  • Displacement, both across borders and within them, mapping responses at multiple levels as well as in global and comparative perspectives, and seeking to understand the meanings and narratives of displacement for those who experience it;
  • Non-governmental organisations and international organisations, including the techniques these organisations use to raise funds, to communicate with different audiences, and to foster organisational cultures;
  • Ideas and cultures of care, exploring what motivates action on behalf of others, how different beliefs and ideologies have conceived and influenced such action, and what frameworks have enabled or obstructed it.

Work on these and other themes within humanitarian history has been supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the British Academy, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the Leverhulme Trust, as well as by the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Humanities Strategic Investment Fund and its ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

Academic staff

Eleanor Davey, Peter Gatrell, Jessica Hawkins, Tanja Müller, Bertrand Taithe

PhD students

Talita Cetinoglu, Jennifer Chapman, Rebecca Viney-Wood, Samantha Winkler

For further information on histories of humanitarianism at the University of Manchester, including the full list of colleagues involved and more on our activities, please see the research groups page on the History Department website.

Recent publication highlights

  • Davey, Eleanor. Idealism beyond Borders: The French Revolutionary Left and the Rise of Humanitarianism, 1954-1988. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Gatrell, Peter. The Making of the Modern Refugee, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Gatrell, Peter. “Refugees – What’s Wrong with History?” Journal of Refugee Studies, Advance Access (2016).
  • Hawkins, Jessica. “Historicizing the State in Development Theory: Michael Mann’s Model of Social Power,” Progress in Development Studies 14:3 (2014): 299-308.
  • Müller, Tanja. “Acts of Citizenship as a Politics of Resistance? Reflections on Realizing Concrete Rights within the Israeli Asylum Regime,” Citizenship Studies 20:1 (2015): 50-66.
  • Taithe, Bertrand. “The Cradle of the New Humanitarian System? International Work and European Volunteers at the Cambodian Border Camps, 1979–1993,” Contemporary European History 25:S2 (2016): 335-58.