army on 24 June 1859. It had been a particularly bloody battle, in which around 40,000 men were killed or seriously wounded; many of the latter died because of a lack of treatment. The evocative power of the blood spilled near the little northern Italian town is commonly associated with the birth of the Red Cross, and Solferino has become the symbolic place of the origins of international humanitarianism. It was here – after witnessing the harrowing spectacle of the wounded abandoned on the field – that Henry Dunant, from Geneva, had the idea of an organisation for
and women to join the missions spread over other continents corresponded to the emergence of a transnational network of philanthropic activity which developed in close interaction with the relief work carried out at home. This interaction is clear both if we look at the type of initiatives (and the ways in which they were carried out) ‘in the field’ and if we take into consideration the origins and set-up of the associations that were being founded to support the missionaries’ work. In the archaeology of international humanitarianism we therefore also have to
represented by feeling compassion for its victims, a contrast that was not, as we know, new in the question of humanitarianism.
The setting up of UNRRA had its roots in the specific historic moment. The plan for the new international body had taken shape since the American relaunch of an internationalist policy that intended to build a juster, safer world after the tragedy of war, taking inspiration in part from Woodrow Wilson’s previous programme. In Roosevelt’s plan, though, the United States’ impetus for the definition of a new world order had also to include
The book traces the history of international humanitarianism from the anti-slavery movement to the end of the Cold War. It is based on an extensive survey of the international literature and is retold in an original narrative that relies on a close examination of the sources. It explains how relief entered both the national and the supranational institutions' agenda, and the programmes of non-governmental organisations, contributing to shape the relationship between the global North and South. The reconstruction of humanitarianism’s long history unfolds around some crucial moments and events: the colonial expansion of European countries, the two World Wars and their aftermaths, the emergence of a new postcolonial order. Salvatici looks especially closely at the major actors of aid operations (such as the Red Cross, Save the Children, the United Nations agencies, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders) and highlights how the meaning of international humanitarianism has changed over time.
torment end their stricken lives. 1
In these lines, Voltaire was describing the death and destruction brought by the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755. This dramatic episode was defined as the first modern natural disaster and is often cited as l’événement inaugural 2 of contemporary humanitarianism. 3 The reasons for the modernity of this event can be traced back to the reaction of the Portuguese monarchy, which considered the response to the emergency to be its own responsibility. This was the first occasion on which there had been an attempt
ground to bring the operation to an end had become the subject of tense debate between the Western allies. Kouchner’s words attracted immediate public attention not only because intervention on the ground was a controversial question but also because the then French health secretary had been one of the best-known (and most controversial) figures in international humanitarianism since he had taken part, in the early 1970s, in the foundation of Médecins Sans Frontières. So his statements in favour of an intensification of the military commitment in Kosovo immediately
postcolonial conflict to engender a transnational wave of humanitarian concern’. 2 This is also why it is usually identified as a turning point, as the beginning of a new phase in the history of humanitarianism. In this interpretation, the aid sent to the victims of the Nigerian civil war ratified the shift in the humanitarian agencies’ range of action, orienting it for good towards the non-European regions that were going through the process of decolonisation and the tensions of the Cold War. In addition, the wide coverage of the ‘mass death’ in Biafra expressed a new
with an appendix entitled ‘Some Lessons from Personal Experience of Relief Work’. Indeed, a year later she was once again operating in the field, at the service of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA): we will return to this in the next chapter. The figure of Francesca M. Wilson interests us here for other reasons, too. Her biography offers some significant points for reflection on the history of humanitarianism in the years between the wars.
It is often emphasised that this period saw a sort of parting of the waters in that
humanitarianism is quite complex. Following the biographies of its most prominent central characters, particularly Dunant and Moynier, is a useful way of sketching all the aspects of the picture. Some of these lead us back to the transformations we saw underway in previous decades, such as the development of a new ‘culture of sensibility’ or the extension of Western charity’s range of action. The emergence of a philanthropie militaire – as defined by Gustave Moynier and Luis Appia, the Swiss military doctor and another member of the ‘Committee of Five’ 3 – was then tied to a
twentieth century attempted to oppose the persistence of more or less hidden forms of forced labour. 5 This is not the place either to go over again the global history of the struggle against slavery, or to analyse in detail the rich collection of studies carried out up to today, but thanks to these we can at any rate try to answer a crucial question for the purposes of our argument: why is the anti-slavery movement considered an important component in the archaeology of humanitarianism?
The main reasons can be summarised in the following terms. In the first