The Dilemmas of International Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century

The Dilemmas of International Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century


12-14 May 2011

The German Historical Institute and the Department of International History at the London School of Economics are organizing a conference on the history of humanitarian aid in the twentieth century. The proceedings form part of the Gerda Henkel Visiting Professorship established at LSE and GHIL.

The conference encompasses the history of international humanitarian aid from the end of the nineteenth century to our times. It focuses on the dilemmas, contradictions and ambiguities of humanitarian commitment. In a historical perspective, humanitarian assistance covered a broad range of measures. These included emergency relief delivered to people struck by natural or man-made disasters; longer term efforts to prevent suffering from famine, ill health or poverty; or schemes such as international adoption, specific campaigns against human rights abuses, and humanitarian intervention by armed forces. Indeed, identifying the evolving connections and differentiations between the different forms of humanitarian aid will be one of the topics for discussion.

The conference investigates cross-border aid in a European and global frame. Donors and recipients as well as their interactions will be analysed. Non-governmental, governmental, religious and secular organisations and individuals were active in the field throughout the twentieth century. They were national, multinational or international in character, and their activities were determined, to various degrees, by moral issues, politics, and organizational or personal interests. The intended or real effects of international humanitarian aid have been a subject of contemporary discussions on many occasions. Less attention has been paid to the equally important agency of the ‘recipients’. Their role needs to be assessed in the context of colonial rule, decolonization, economic dependency, international politics and global governance.

The conference convenes historians as well as political and social scientists, anthropologists and scholars from other disciplines with an interest in the contemporary history of humanitarian aid.

Thursday 12 May

10:30-11:00 Registration at the German Historical Institute London

11:00-11:30 Welcome and Introduction by Johannes Paulmann (University of Mannheim/ Magdalen College, Oxford)

11:30-13:00 — Session 1: Multiple Foundations of International Humanitarianism

  • Matthias Schulz (Université de Genève): Dilemmas of humanitarian internationalisms from the Geneva Convention to World War I and its aftermath
  • Vincent Viaene (Brasenose College, Oxford): “Soft power” and hard realities: Reflections on internationalism and imperialism in the Congo 1876-1914

14:00-16:45 — Session 2: International Humanitarianism in the Shadow of Two World Wars and Colonialism

  • Daniel Maul (University of Giessen/University of Oslo): The Society of Friends and American international relief 1890-1920
  • Jennifer Polk (University of Toronto): “The best kind of propaganda”: American Red Cross child welfare projects in Petrograd and Arkhangel’sk, 1918-19
  • Davide Rodongo (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva): Foreign humanitarian actors in Greece 1918-1931
  • Francisco Javier Martínez-Antonio (CSIC Madrid): Nationalism as source and bound of humanitarian aid: The case of the Rif war (1921-1926)

18:00-19:15 — Keynote I

Heide Fehrenbach (Northern Illinois University): From aid to intimacy: The humanitarian origins and visual culture of international adoption

Friday 13 May

09:00-09:45 — Caroline Reeves (Emmanuel College, Boston): Red Cross, “Blue Express”: Chinese local relief capabilities in an age of Humanitarian Imperialism, Shandong 1923

09:45-10.30 — Maria Framke (Jacobs University Bremen): Colonial humanitarianism: Debates and activities in India during the 1930s

11.00-11.45 — Joelle Droux (European Institute of Geneva University): Life during wartime: The Save the Children international union facing the dilemmas of international warfare relief (1938-1945)

11.45-12:30 — Irène Hermann and Daniel Palmieri (University of Fribourg/University of Geneva and IRCRC): Two crosses for the same aim? Switzerland and Sweden charitable activities during World War II

14:00-14:45 — Silvia Salvatici (Università di Teramo): A “gigantic humanitarian crusade”. The relief of displaced European persons in the aftermath of World War II

14:45-15:30 — Shobana Shankar (Georgetown University): Haunted markets: Child migration, postwar demobilization and the construction of humanitarian crisis in colonial Africa

16:00-17:00 — Session 3: Cold War and Post-Colonial Humanitarianism

  • Young-Sun Hong (Harvard University): (Post)Colonial states of emergency and humanitarian crisis: Afro-Asian wars of national liberation and the international humanitarian regime, 1945-1965
  • Konrad J. Kuhn (University of Zürich): “The credibility of our humanitarian effort is at risk”: Solidarity, liberation struggle and humanitarian aid in the late 1960s

18:30-19:45 — Keynote II

To be held in the Wolfson Theatre of the London School of Economics

Eytan Gilboa (Bar-Ilan University/University of Southern California): Media coverage of international humanitarian aid: Historical and theoretical perspectives

Saturday 14 May

09:00-09:45 — Florian Hannig (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg): Negotiating humanitarianism and politics: Operation Omega’s border breaching missions during the East Pakistan crisis 1971

09:45-10.30 — Michael Vössing (University of Mannheim): Conflicting strategies of relief: German aid for Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s

11:00-12:30 — Session 4: Dilemmas of Global Humanitarianism

  • Monika Krause (University of Kent): The logic of relief: Humanitarian NGOs and global power
  • 11:45-12:30 Michal Givoni (University of California Berkeley):
  • Humanitarian dilemmas and ethical cultivation: The case of Médecins sans
  • Frontières

13:30-15:45 — Session 4: Dilemmas of Global Humanitarianism (continued)

  • Eva Spies (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz): Dilemmas of participation: Development aid workers in Niger and the problem of doing “the right thing”
  • Anicée van Engeland (University of Exeter): Islam, culture and tradition and foreign humanitarian aid: A clash of civilizations
  • Alan Guilloux (City University of Hong Kong): Asia and modern humanitarianism

Organizer: Prof. Dr. Johannes Paulmann (Universität Manheim/ Magdalen College Oxford); German Historical Institute London; International History Department der London School of Economics, London

Venue: German Historical Institute London, 17 Bloomsbury Square, London, WC1A 2NJ

Contact: Johannes Paulmann (, Universität Mannheim / Magdalen College, Oxford


Emilia Robin

Chercheuse associée à l'UMR SIRICE. Violons d'Ingres : guerre froide, médiation scientifique, logiciels libres

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