This article introduces you to the general themes and questions of this special
issue. We argue that history and visual media have long been central to
humanitarian communication, but that the overlaps between history, visual media,
and humanitarian communication have seldom been addressed. A focus on those
overlaps, we suggest, not only demonstrates that critical historical inquiry has
much to offer for professional communication specialists, it also sheds new
light on the workings, changes and persistence of humanitarian narratives over
the twentieth century.
The Visual Politics and Narratives of Red Cross Museums in Europe and the
United States, 1920s to 2010s
Interpreting Red Cross museums as a visual medium, this essay explores the visual
politics of Red Cross museums through the twentieth century. The essay puts
particular emphasis on the entanglements between the visual politics and
humanitarian narratives of Red Cross museums and identifies three major
narratives that museums promoted through the times: a heroic narrative, a
narrative of civility, and a volunteer’s narrative. Last, the essay
argues that Red Cross museums may offer a fruitful field to encourage more
engagement between (public) historians and humanitarian practitioners.
An Interview with Rainer Schlösser, Spokesperson of the Association of the Red Cross Museums in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der deutschen Rotkreuz-Museen)
An accomplished academic, collector, and long-time Red Cross volunteer, Professor Dr Rainer Schlösser is head of the Red Cross Museum of the Red Cross Chapter Fläming-Spreewald in Luckenwalde. He has directed the museum since 2000. Since 2006, he has also served as official spokesperson of the Association of the Red Cross Museums in Germany, a group connecting thirteen Red Cross museums across Germany. I met Rainer Schlösser in his office at the Red Cross Museum in Luckenwalde. After an extended and insightful tour through the museum we sat down to discuss his ideas and his work at the museum.
For two decades, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) prepared pedagogical materials for Canadian schools. This article reviews the role of visual media in the hundreds of publications prepared for Development Education. Samples collected by Marc Rockbrune, Distribution Clerk responsible for their expedition in schools, libraries, and homes, and donated in 2016 to Carleton University Archives and Research Collections, are read with the help of the ‘psychopedagogical guides’ prepared by CIDA, and the testimonies of two workers of the agency linked to their preparation and dissemination: Mary Bramley, curator of the International Development Photo Library, and Rockbrune himself. Prepared with a large measure of autonomy by a sizeable team of visual artists, designers, and third world reformers, the program outreach was large, and its popularity strong. The expected and effective roles of visual media in the history of this short-lived institution of Development Education is explored to suggest elements of understanding of their impact on a generation of Canadian children and youth.
Visual Advocacy in the Early Decades of Humanitarian Cinema
Focusing on the pivotal period of 1919–23 and the large-scale humanitarian responses in Central and Eastern Europe, this paper discusses the development of advocacy in the movies made by organizations like the ICRC, Save the Children Fund or American Relief Administration. While aid agencies observed and competed with each other for visibility, humanitarian cinema shaped visual advocacy, grounded in the idea that ‘seeing is believing’. Exploring the fragmented audiovisual archives, as well as magazines and promotional material, this paper explores the testimonial function of humanitarian films in the 1920s. It first shows that the immediacy of the cinema technology increased the immersive and affective experience of the viewers by using forensic evidence and images of the body in pain. It then analyses how these films compelled audiences to witness suffering and act through persuasion, suggestion, and emotions. Finally, it inquires into the use of eyewitness images and first-hand accounts during the screenings, to show how these movies operated within larger regimes of visibility, while making claims on behalf of distant beneficiaries.
The following conversation explores the emergence of advocacy within the MSF movement. Maria Guevara was Senior Operational Positioning and Advocacy Advisor in the Operational Centre Geneva (OCG) at MSF Switzerland. Marc DuBois was the Head of the Humanitarian Affairs Department in the Operational Centre Amsterdam (OCA) at MSF Holland and the former Director of MSF UK. Together, we discuss the principle of ‘bearing witness’ and the dilemmas it has raised among MSF’s different sections, as well as its link to eyewitness.
The Politics of Information and Analysis in Food Security
Daniel Maxwell and Peter Hailey
Famine means destitution, increased severe malnutrition, disease, excess death
and the breakdown of institutions and social norms. Politically, it means a
failure of governance – a failure to provide the most basic of
protections. Because of both its human and political meanings,
‘famine’ can be a shocking term. This is turn makes the analysis
– and especially declaration – of famine a very sensitive subject.
This paper synthesises the findings from six case studies of the analysis of
extreme food insecurity and famine to identify the political constraints to data
collection and analysis, the ways in which these are manifested, and emergent
good practice to manage these influences. The politics of information and
analysis are the most fraught where technical capacity and data quality are the
weakest. Politics will not be eradicated from analysis but can and must be
The search and rescue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on the
Mediterranean has become a site of major political contestation in Europe, on
the seas, in parliaments and government offices and in online public opinion.
This article summarises one particular set of controversies, namely, false
claims that the non-government organisations conducting such search and rescue
operations are actively ‘colluding’ with people smugglers to ferry
people into Europe. In spring and summer 2017, these claims of
‘collusion’ emerged from state agencies and from anti-immigration
groups, became viral on social media platforms and rapidly moved into mainstream
media coverage, criminal investigations by prosecutors and the speech and laws
of politicians across the continent. These claims were in turn connected to
far-right conspiracy theories about ‘flooding’ Europe with
‘invaders’. By looking at the experience of one particular ship,
the MV Aquarius, run in partnership by MSF and SOS
Méditerranée, the authors detail the risks that humanitarian
organisations now face from such types of disinformation campaign. If
humanitarian organisations do not prepare themselves against this risk, they
will find themselves in a world turned upside-down, in which their efforts to
help people in distress become evidence of criminal activity.
A Belated but Welcome Theory of Change on Mental Health and
This article critiques the new Theory of Change (ToC) on mental health published
by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in the last
fortnight of its existence. The ToC offers development actors a framework for
better support of beneficiaries with mental health conditions and psychosocial
disabilities – given disappointingly scant attention by the sector to
date. Yet, 70 per cent of mental disorders occur in low- and middle-income
countries (LMICs), with a 22 per cent prevalence in fragile and
conflict-affected states. Globally, mental ill-health is estimated to affect
almost one billion people. Its intersectionality with poverty and physical
health has been brought into sharp focus by the current COVID-19 pandemic which
has magnified the underlying social and environmental stressors of mental
health. DfID’s ToC provides a conceptual framework for improving mental
health globally, with an overarching vision of the full and equal exercise of
all human rights by those affected by mental health conditions and psychosocial
disability. The framework incorporates a rights-based approach with
user-participation embedded in five critical change pathways to outcomes. The
article analyses the ToC, provides an overview, highlights gaps and comments
upon how DfID might have improved clarity for development actors seeking to
realise its vision.