Following the success of the Network’s first conference in June 2014, we’re delighted to announce details of our second conference, which will take place at the University of Exeter in June 2016. The next conference will be on the theme of ‘Empire and Humanitarianism’ and the call for papers can be found below. As with our first conference, we’re particularly keen to have submissions from PhD students and early career researchers but proposals from more established historians are welcome too. A selection of papers from the first conference are scheduled to appear in the Journal of World History later this year and we anticipate that our second conference will result in a special issue or edited collection.
The ‘global turn’ has invigorated the study of humanitarianism, development and human rights. Within the context of Imperial history, historians have pointed to the complex and often contradictory relationship between humanitarianism and empire. Although humanitarianism emerged in response to the worst excesses of imperialism, such as the slave trade and the atrocities associated with the Boer War, it was nonetheless shaped by the ‘moral and political frameworks of empire’. In other words, empire and humanitarianism were not necessarily incompatible and could in fact be mutually reinforcing, whether this was through the paternal rhetoric of the ‘civilising mission’ or the development of international regulatory agencies during the inter-war period. Although these discourses and mechanisms were often more concerned with consolidating the authority of the imperial powers than they were in protecting the rights of colonial subject populations, humanitarianism could have emancipatory effects. As the legitimacy of empire came under increasing scrutiny after 1945, metropolitan activists shifted from abstract expressions of sympathy for colonial peoples to forms of participatory activism that involved the outright rejection of empire and the channelling of political and material support to nationalist movements. For anti-colonial nationalists the emerging discourses associated with human rights, self-determination, and development provided a global context for their local struggles, enabling them to forge transnational links with other anti-colonial groups and providing the language and the means with which to undermine the moral authority of the imperial state.
In view of long and complex relationship between humanitarianism and empire, the conference organisers invite proposals for 20-minute papers that consider one or more of the following topics:
- Humanitarianism and the ethos and practice of imperial rule
- Advocacy groups in both the metropole and the colonies
- Networks of humanitarian activists, technical ‘experts’, and development practitioners
- Medical emergencies in colonial contexts
- The relationship between humanitarianism and development in both the colonial and post-colonial periods
- Humanitarianism and colonial conflicts
- Gendered histories of colonial humanitarianism and development
- The role of international NGOs in colonial contexts
- Humanitarianism and anti-colonialism
- Indigenous, non-western or ‘local’ understandings of humanitarianism, development, and individual or collective rights
- Empire and the global rights order
- Humanitarianism during the era of decolonisation
- The relationship between the developmental state, group rights, and individual freedoms
- Population movements and refugees crises, with a particular emphasis on the period of decolonisation and its immediate aftermath
- International aid and development after empire
The conference organisers welcome papers that consider one or more of these issues in the context of any of the late nineteenth- and twentieth-century European empires, as well as Latin America and the contiguous empires of the United States, Russia, and East Asia. Comparative papers are particularly welcome. Proposals, which should include a 300 word abstract and a brief biography, should be sent to Gareth Curless (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Friday 27 November 2015.
 Rob Skinner and Alan Lester, ‘Humanitarianism and Empire: New Research Agendas’, Journal of Imperialism and Commonwealth History, Vol. 40, No. 5 (2012), p. 738.
 Ibid., p. 739.