MSc International Disaster Management / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
The History of Humanitarian Aid

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI61202
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course will explore the following topics:
1. Reconstruction and repatriation: the refugee and the humanitarian worker in the new millennium
2. Institutions in the new millennium
3. Faith-based organisations and missionaries
4. Aftermaths of World War 2: displacement, human rights and internationalism
5. The League of Nations and the international politics of colonialism and public health
6. Displacement and famine in the aftermath of World War 1 in Europe
7. Famines in the Imperial age: China, North Africa and the Indian sub-continent
8. The Red Cross
9. Humanitarian motivation
10. State sovereignty and humanitarian intervention
11. Refugee camps and refugee agency
12. Representing the crisis: distortion and manipulation?


This course seeks to undertake:
- a survey of the history of modern humanitarianism as an idea or 'ideology of compassion'
- a survey of the humanitarian organisations in relation to population displacement and other crises
- an analysis of refugees as recipients and agents of humanitarian aid
- a cultural and social history of non-governmental organisations at key periods from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the students will have:
- investigated the intellectual currents of modern humanitarianism
- explored some of the complex issues arising from humanitarian work in times of crisis and conflicts
- understood the range of issues arising from population displacement
- assessed historically the importance of humanitarian movements in modern world (especially western) history

Teaching and learning methods

3 hour weekly lecture

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Recommended reading

B. Taithe, 'Reinventing (French) universalism: religion, humanitarianism and the French doctors', Modern and Contemporary France (2004), 147-59
Fiona Terry, Condemned to Repeat: the paradox of humanitarian action, Cornell, 2002
Liisa Malkki (1996), 'Speechless emissaries: refugees, humanitarianism, and dehistoricization', Cultural Anthropology, 11, no. 3, 377-404
Gil Loescher, The UNHCR and World Politics: a Perilous Path, Oxford: OUP, 2001
Researching Humanitarian Intervention: Some Lessons
Thomas G. Weiss, Journal of Peace Research > Vol. 38, No. 4 (Jul., 2001), pp. 419-428
Inter Arma Caritas: Evolution and Nature of International Humanitarian Law, Jacques Meurant
Journal of Peace Research > Vol. 24, No. 3, Special Issue on Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict (Sep., 1987), pp. 237-249
Kosovo and the Law of "Humanitarian Intervention"
Louis Henkin, The American Journal of International Law > Vol. 93, No. 4 (Oct., 1999), pp. 824-828

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 117

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Bertrand Taithe Unit coordinator

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