Research themes

Global Humanitarianism, Human Rights and Development

Global and imperial histories have much to add to present debates on humanitarianism and human rights, exploring how the global spread of rights and development of humanitarian norms has occurred under the auspices of, or fashioned against, experiences of empire and decolonization. A lack of historical analysis in current policy has meant that lessons from the past have been ignored, fuelling tensions between donors and recipients of aid. Recent scholarship, including that by Centre members, however has begun to analyse the historical contingency of humanitarian intervention and development programmes, and to chart how decisions have been made in response to local, imperial and international, as well as legal and moral, understandings of rights and intervention. Stacey Hynd is investigating how the evolution of human rights and humanitarian responses to children in war has shaped the emergence of the ‘child soldier crisis’ in Africa from 1970-2010s, and how tensions between global child rights discourses and local norms of childhood has constrained effective protection.  PhD students Bethany Rebisz and Rhian Keyse have focused on the gendering of humanitarianism, looking at the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya and campaigns against forced marriage respectively, whilst Ben Holmes analyses British support for German civilians after the First World War. Rebecca Williams analyses how population control interventions in India have formed a key facet of gendered developmental interventions, and she also explores the recent emergence of ‘voluntourism’ as a form of privatized developmental activity that shows significant (neo-)colonial inheritances. More broadly, James Mark has written extensively on alternative globalizations, highlighting developmental relationships between the ‘Second’ and ‘Third’ worlds. From a human rights perspective, our scholars also work on histories of transnational justice, with James Mark involved in a project on the criminalisation of dictatorial pasts in Europe and Latin America since 1945 that highlights the ways that ideas and practices of dealing with the past have travelled across and between regions, and on a global scale, and Stacey Hynd working on rights-claims and national reconciliation in Ghana. Moreover, Centre staff lead the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy with the University of Mainz and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva. In pursuing these research topics, we are working with global and local NGO partners to provide a critical historical perspective on the evolution of aid, intervention and development and support the development of more effective policy and interventions.