MSc International Disaster Management

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Conceptualising the Camp

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI62311
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


What is a camp? How is it defined by different actors? Why is the word so common in humanitarian crises and yet, can mean a multitude of different things for those who reside in one? This module takes a long-term historical approach to the idea of the camp, real or imagined, in humanitarian and conflict settings. Students are provided with the theoretical and conceptual tools for analysing the types of camps which have existed past and present and the purpose they serve. Further, the course interrogates the “root causes” of camps, whether war and conflict, genocide, natural hazards or government imposed detention, we ask how they are maintained and justified and continue to be an integral part of humanitarian response. Students will critically analyse primary and secondary sources ranging from examining the colonial concentration camps, to the holocaust through to western detention centres in the present day.


  • To interrogate the different definitions and understandings of the Camp in humanitarian settings
  • To consider the types of humanitarian crises which result in the formation of camps
  • To critically assess the purpose of camps for different actors and the roles played by these actors in maintaining or dismantling them.
  • Develop critical research and analysis skills related to the use of primary and secondary sources and demonstrated through two pieces of assessment

Knowledge and understanding

  • To learn the theories and concepts related to how camps are defined
  • To develop a critical understanding of the actors involved in the creation and maintenance of camps and the purposes they serve
  • To develop a good understanding of the types of humanitarian crises or conflict which result in the creation of a camp, past and present
  • To understand the historical lineage of the camp and its colonial underpinnings
  • To use this knowledge to make an assessment on the future of the camp in humanitarian and conflict settings.

Intellectual skills

  • Critically interrogate the literature and primary sources on camps in humanitarian and conflict settings, past and present
  • Understand the scholarship on the theories of camp creation and interrogate the differences between the scholarship from the Global North versus the Global South
  • Develop an ability to use primary sources as started at Level 1, to use personal accounts and sources as a means for developing academic arguments.

Practical skills

  • Understand the many facets of a camp in different circumstances and use this understanding for appropriate humanitarian interventions in future crises.
  • Be able to translate historical facets of the camp to present day humanitarian iterations of the camp.
  • Develop a historical screencast podcast to inform others of the ways in which camps were conceptualised in the past
  • Write a critical essay demonstrating research skills on this topic

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop an audio / visual screencast mini-documentary to communicate academic knowledge to a wider audience.
  • Become specialists in refugee / IDP camps and detention centres for future careers.
  • Bring the human element to a solid, physical structure.


Employability skills

Information Retrieval Research design Presentation Teamwork Time Management Improving own Learning

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Written assignment (inc essay) 70%
Tutorial preparation & participation Formative 0%

Knowledge translation project –

screencast documentary

Summative 30%
Essay Summative 70%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback

On all summative assessments

Oral feedback

Presentation Formative

Additional feedback as required in office hours

Formative and summative

Recommended reading

Gatrell, P. (2013) The Making of the Modern Refugee, OUP: Oxford

Hall, A. (2012) Border Watch: Cultures of Immigration, Detention and Control, Pluto Press

Hampton, J. (2002) Internally Displaced People: A Global Survey, Routledge.

Hilberg, R. (1985) The Destruction of the European Jews, New York: Holmes & Meier.

Johnson, H. (2014) Borders, asylum and global non-Citizenship: the other side of the fence, CUP: Cambridge.

Laycock, J. (2015) ‘Beyond National Narratives? Centenary Histories, the First World War and the Armenian Genocide’, Revolutionary Russia, 28:2.

Lisher, S. K. (2005) Dangerous Sanctuaries: Refugee Camps, Civil War and the Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid, Cornell University Press: New York.

Smith, I. R. & Stucki, A. (2011) ‘The Colonial Development of Concentration Camps’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 39:3.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 22

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jessica Hawkins Unit coordinator

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