Histories of Humanitarianism: Religious, Philanthropic, and Political Practices in the Modernizing World, workshop to be held at the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC and the University of Maryland, College Park, March 7-8, 2014
Starting in the nineteenth century, societies on both sides of the Atlantic initiated a series of strategies and institutions designed to provide emergency assistance and humanitarian interventions across the globe. Such practices were rooted in earlier colonial and religious missions, in pre-modern government claims of responsibility for co-religionists even beyond national borders, and in the activities of domestic relief organizations. Establishing sophisticated transnational networks as well as a broad variety of supporting structures, they carried messages of “modernization” to societies in transformation and assistance in times of crisis, responding to famine and other natural disasters as well as the ravages of war. At the same time, they allowed individuals, secu¬¬¬¬lar as well as religious, to pursue meaningful careers; this was especially important for female philanthropists, missionaries, and relief workers whose own societies often denied them similar vocational opportunities.
Developments in the early twentieth century challenged earlier humanitarian practices in several ways. First, in the wake of the Great War, the formation of the League of Nations – the world’s first official intergovernmental entity –shifted the context for international relief work, while the scale of the crisis produced by the war demanded a new level of humanitarian response. At the same time, organizations themselves were becoming increasing bureaucratized and professionalized, displacing individuals who had previously been able to participate on a voluntary basis and questioning their motivation.
In the wake of World War II, the context for international assistance shifted once again with yet another escalation in the scale of humanitarian disaster, the founding of the UN and its affiliated agencies, the wave of decolonization, and the spread of the Cold War. Yet, religious arguments for humanitarian practices persisted, and both religious and secular NGOs remained robust, existing alongside, sometimes cooperating, sometimes in tension with expanding international organizations. As humanitarianism became ever more a global enterprise on the part of the world’s wealthy nations and a tool of their foreign policy, recipient populations began to mobilize and assert agency in claiming aid and shaping it according to their own perceptions of need.
This workshop will address the following questions:
1) What were the roots of international humanitarian organizations? To what extent did they draw on the rhetoric and practices of earlier religious and colonial missions? On those of domestic governmental and voluntary organizations?
2) What were the motivations for providing assistance, and how did they shift over time? How did the rhetoric and visual iconography of aid change? How were they shaped by gender?
3) How did individual motivations differ depending on the gender, class, religious, and cultural background of aid workers? How were these affected by professionalization and bureaucratization?
4) How did religious humanitarianism differ among various religions and denominations? Were there sharp distinctions between religiously, culturally, and politically justified activities?
5) What was the relationship between states and NGOs, and between NGOs and IOs? To what extent did humanitarian aid become a tool of foreign policy, and with what results?
6) What did these projects look like through their eyes of their so-called beneficiaries?
The conference will be held at the University of Maryland, College Park, and at the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C. The sponsors will cover transportation and lodging for all presenters. Proposals (250-500 words), along with one-page c.v.’s, should be sent to Susanne Fabricius (Fabricius@ghi-dc.org) by September 15, 2013. Acceptances will be sent out by October 30, 2013. Drafts of full papers (up to 8000 words) should be submitted by February 1, 2014.
Department of History
University of Maryland, College Park
College Park, MD 20742
Tel: (301) 405-4265
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