, during what Fernand Braudel called the ‘long sixteenth century’
(1450–1650), and it has since expanded continuously inside and outside Europe, with
particularly important ‘waves’ during the nineteenth century and the second half of
the twentieth century. Throughout this period, the European state system has conquered and
incorporated other continental territories, empires and peoples, which, bit by bit, have adopted
the rules of coexistence established by the Peace of Westphalia, declared in 1648, at the end of
the Thirty Years War.
The Peace of
Visual Advocacy in the Early Decades of Humanitarian Cinema
followed relief operations for starving populations, refugees and genocide survivors in Central and Eastern European countries. The defeat of Germany and the partitioning of multinational empires led to the creation of new states, thus sending millions of displaced persons on the road, which – together with the war – provoked unprecedented deprivations throughout Europe. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war in Russia also threatened Central Europe to fall under Soviet influence. The 1921–22 Russian famine thus triggered a large-scale international response
Marie-Luce Desgrandchamps, Lasse Heerten, Arua Oko Omaka, Kevin O'Sullivan, and Bertrand Taithe
crisis was framed very much in terms of (anti-)colonialism. Irish missionaries, in
particular, liked to frame what was happening to the Biafrans as akin to what the
Irish had experienced in the British Empire. The spectre of famine was particularly
significant in this respect. The phrase ‘The Great Hunger’ –
which had been popularised as the title of Cecil Woodham-Smith’s hugely
successful 1962 book – was used repeatedly by Irish missionaries and NGOs in
relation to Biafra
what’s happening around the world today as if there haven’t been people…
theorising racism, nationalism, empire and gender for a century and warning of exactly what we
Moulded by Eurocentric knowledge systems, most of us react to such developments with utter
shock. We – an imagined citizenry of respectable democracies – are horrified and
appalled at how far we have been dragged from our liberal, more-or-less progressive self-image.
And we are invited to consider whether we might be witnessing the end of the liberal humanitarian
A Model for Historical Reflection in the Humanitarian Sector
Kevin O’Sullivan and Réiseal Ní Chéilleachair
Projects like these were vital in opening questions about institutional (and
sectoral) memory and communities of practice. Equally significantly, they grew in
tandem with a rich vein of historical research. Michael Barnett’s Empire of Humanity (2011)
broke new ground, and it was followed by diverse new histories of humanitarianism,
the development of new partnerships between NGOs and the writing of new histories of
humanitarianism in places like Exeter, Galway, Geneva, London, Mainz
( 2014 ), Medicine and Empire:
1600–1960 ( New York :
Palgrave Macmillan ).
Hays , J. N.
( 2009 ), The Burdens of Disease: Epidemics
and Human Response in Western History ( New
Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University
The modern global humanitarian system takes the form it does because it is underpinned by
liberal world order, the post-1945 successor to the imperial world of the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries and the global political and economic system the European empires created.
Humanitarian space, as we have come to know it in the late twentieth century, is liberal space,
even if many of those engaged in humanitarian action would rather not see themselves as liberals.
To the extent that there is something constitutively
C. ( 2011 ), Empire of Humanity: A History of
Humanitarianism ( New York :
Cornell University Press ).
Y. ( 2017 ), ‘ Law, Innovation,
and Collaboration in Networked Economy and Society’ ,
Annual Review of Law and Social Science ,
13 : 1 , doi: 10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-110316