Histories of humanitarianism

Last Thursday and Friday (20-21 June) my colleague Matthew Hilton (University of Birmingham) and I held the second of four workshops in our international research network, ‘Non-state Humanitarianism: From Colonialism to Human Rights’, at the Moore Institute here in NUI Galway. Across two days of papers, plenaries and roundtables, participants from Ireland, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States discussed, debated, critiqued and commented on a variety of issues facing historians of humanitarianism. You can have a look at the programme and descriptions of the papers here.

The aim of the network is simple: to map out the new histories of NGOs, missionary societies, philanthropists and charities that are beginning to be written across Europe and North America. It’s been an exciting process thus far – and an important one, since we are now opening the doors to a whole new understanding of the threads that bind communities together across worlds. But we also have a much bigger objective: to find out how we can use these histories to feed into decision-making in the contemporary humanitarian sector. Anyone who wants to know how this might be done could do worse than to read the description on our site alongside the working paper on humanitarian histories just published by our partners the Overseas Development Institute, and have a look at a new website called Humanitarian History, the brainchild of John Borton, who delivered an excellent paper on the potential uses of humanitarian history in the first session on day 2 of the workshop.

The workshop also threw up something of a novelty for me. It was the first time I’ve used Twitter to spread news of our discussions – live – throughout the worldwide web. (When I say that I used twitter, that’s a little inaccurate – one of our just-finished final year history cohort, Aibhlín O’Leary, did all the work.) You can see some examples from our feed below, and read the whole thread here. It was an intriguing experience, and one that I’d like to repeat, though I’d also like to hear from any of you who have found this a useful way of keeping up with discussions from afar – or not.

Finally, a quick word of thanks to Siobhán Peters, Aibhlín O’Leary and Robert Grace, the NUI Galway students who helped to make everything at the workshop run so smoothly – as usual, they left a great impression of the quality of our young historians.

– Kevin O’Sullivan

The voice of Eamon de Valera

Let me set the scene. It’s last Saturday afternoon, and I’m rooting through the crates of vinyl at the record fair at Electric Garden on Abbeygate Street in Galway city centre. The boxes are filled with the usual stuff: records from the seventies that someone now wishes they hadn’t gotten rid of, odd copies of Pet Shot Boys and Police LPs that they wish they’d never heard of, and a rare edition of Led Zeppelin IV with a misspelt cover that’s inexplicably worth hundreds as a result. And there, in the Irish section, set among the Microdisney and Fatima Mansions records, I came across this:


Ah, Galway. Always another twist when you least expect it. (I’ll post something here soon about the two individuals I saw a few weeks back, decked out in full mariner regalia and reciting dialogue from Moby Dick down by Spanish Arch. On a Saturday afternoon. In broad daylight.)

But back to de Valera. Does anyone out there know anything about this LP? Has anyone ever heard it? Should I have bought it? Is it worth money? (Note the increasingly frantic tone of a man who feels his winning lotto ticket may have passed him by, when he bought a fairly battered copy of this instead.)

– Kevin O’Sullivan

Book launch- Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire

For anyone who is in the Dublin area this week, I will be launching my new book, Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire: Small State Identity in the Cold War, 1955-75 (Manchester University Press), on Wednesday 12 June in Hodges Figgis Bookstore, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, at 18.30. All are welcome to come along – there will be plenty of refreshments to go around! You can download the invite in pdf format here, or click the image below to enlarge.

Ireland, Africa and the end of empire launch- jpeg version

– Kevin O’Sullivan

The disarmament of hatred – France and Germany between the two world wars

Gearoid Barry Book launch Photograph by Aengus McMahon

In case you missed it, you can listen back here to our very own Gearóid Barry being interviewed by Patrick Geoghegan of Newstalk on the station’s Talking History show on 19 May 2013. The piece begins about 15 minutes in.

Gearóid is pictured above with John Horne, professor of Modern European History at Trinity College Dublin, who performed the  launch of his new book The Disarmament of Hatred: Marc Sangnier, French Catholicism and the Legacy of the First World War, 1914-45 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) at the Moore Institute last autumn. Professor Horne, formerly Gearóid’s doctoral supervisor, spoke of his pleasure in returning to visit NUI Galway and said of the book that it illuminated a remarkable Franco-German peace movement instigated in 1921 by war veteran and French Catholic politician Marc Sangnier. Barry’s transnational study examines the European resonance of Sangnier’s Peace Congresses in the interwar period. Advocating the ‘disarmament of hatred’, this movement – with its staged reconciliation and crossing of borders – aroused both hope and hostility in the aftermath of the First World War.  Mining a variety of sources, both known and new, this book considers the Peace Congresses’ surprising appeal and its political ecumenism (embracing Quakers, secularists, socialists and the pope) while reconfiguring the transnational histories of youth movements, women’s peace activism and Christian Democracy.  Examining also the excruciating new choices between peace and appeasement in the France and Europe of the 1930s, this story casts new light on key questions in European history in the era of two World Wars.

Directions to the Easter Rising, please

001woi001 001er16001You know the feeling. You get out of bed on the wrong side, you leave the navigation to the better half, who invariably gets it right but you think that they’re getting it wrong – and even when you realise that they’re actually right, you can’t quite admit it and carry on regardless. It happens to the best of us. Even historians. In the middle of a leisurely walk at Millstreet Country Park (a little pricey, but worth a visit) a few weeks ago I came across this baffling choice: War of Independence or Easter Rising? A lesson in how we are constructing this decade of commemoration, or some terrible mind game to play on an unsuspecting historian? Hmmmm.

– Kevin O’Sullivan