, 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
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
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
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
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
Agathangelou , A.
Ling , L. H.
M. ( 2009 ),
Transforming World Politics: From Empire to Multiple Worlds
( New York :
( 2000 ), Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in
Post-Coloniality ( London :
Dispelling Misconceptions about Sexual Violence against Men and Boys in
Conflict and Displacement
Heleen Touquet, Sarah Chynoweth, Sarah Martin, Chen Reis, Henri Myrttinen, Philipp Schulz, Lewis Turner, and David Duriesmith
: Edward Elgar
( 2012 ), Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the
Benign Facade of American Empire, 1898–2001
( London : C. Hurst &
Carlson , E.
S. ( 2006 ),
‘ The Hidden Prevalence of Male Sexual Assault During
The influence of the dominant super-power is
greater than ever before, driven by ICTs. Where the British
Empire was represented by telegraphs and railways, the US is
represented by satellite television, Hollywood and the Internet
…. ICT standards have driven the clustering of economic
power within the most connected networks of private corporations