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