Call for Papers

International Conference: "Disasters, Emergencies and Relief. Global Perspectives on the History of Humanitarian Interventionism since the 1970s", Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History, Munich, 13-14 October 2022

In recent years, scholars have produced a great number of studies dealing with the history of humanitarianism. Given humanitarianism’s multifaceted character, these studies intersect with a variety of other research fields that are currently in vogue, including the history of international politics, human rights, development, environment, sustainability, and (forced) migration. In addition to questions of periodization and of the importance of (colonial) traditions for postwar humanitarianism, scholars predominately examine the role states, non-state actors, civil society, international organizations, and the media play in humanitarian aid. Yet, despite the recent dynamic in this research field many publications predominately focus on a Western and European perspective, often contrary to scholarly claims of a global approach.

We intend to address these shortcomings at our conference by focusing on concepts, actors, and practices of humanitarian interventionism during emergencies in a truly global context. The conference promises to complement and broaden the current state of research in three areas:
First, by chronologically expanding the focus of case studies on humanitarian aid and humanitarian interventionism into the 1980s and 1990s
Second, by curating papers that deal with the so-called Global South, a region frequently afflicted by humanitarian emergencies since the 1970s.
Third, by focusing on empirical case studies of key areas of emergency humanitarian relief that are often interconnected and mutually dependent, namely hunger, refugees, and natural as well as man-made disasters. Paper topics can include, for example, the reaction to famines, refugee crises triggered by war, civil war, and genocide, as well as natural and man-made humanitarian disasters.

Our conference aims to examine the interdependencies between local, regional, and global developments through empirical case studies. In addition to offering new insights into key questions of humanitarian relief, the conference also enables us to grasp the increasing global interdependencies since the 1970s and to analyze the various actors within the polyvalent network of international relations. Scholars from neighboring subject areas, including international law, political science, social sciences, ethnology, and anthropology are particularly welcome as only an interdisciplinary exchange will help us to gain a better understanding of the history of humanitarianism in the contemporary period.

Questions we would like to address with the conference papers are:

  • What understanding of humanitarianism and humanitarian interventionism, particularly emergency relief, guided the actors? What norms and (ideological) traditions shaped this specific understanding?
  • Which actors and networks are discussed (state and non-state; collective and individual; religious and secular; inter- and transnational actors)? What was their political and social background? Can we find – and if so, to what extent – forms of knowledge circulation as well as institutional and personal networks? What cooperative and competitive interdependencies between the different actors can we identify?
  • What was the nature of humanitarian aid practices on the ground?
  • At what point and in what ways were the crises perceived at the local, national, and global level? Did this perception influence the discourse about and practice of humanitarian aid?
  • How did the Cold War (and its end), the North-South divide, and the rise of neo-liberal ideas influence humanitarian aid? How important were regional, political, ethnic, and religious antagonisms?
  • What continuities and turning points emerge in the case studies? How do they compare to the common periodization of 20th century history in general and to the history of humanitarianism in particular?
  • What consequences for the genesis and long-term significance of humanitarian aid as a political field can we find in the case studies?
  • What research gaps can we identify? What methodologies and sources promise new insights and could be used for further research?

To Apply:
The workshop will be conducted in English. To apply, please send an abstract (max. 800 words) and a 2-page CV in English by 20 December 2021 to: bkkk[at]
If you have any questions, please contact Tobias Hof (tobias.hof[at]
Participants will be asked to pre-circulate abstracts of their papers ahead of the workshop. The organizers envision the eventual publication of selected papers in an edited volume with a leading academic press and/or a special issue in a leading journal.

Dr. Agnes Bresselau von Bressensdorf (Berlin Center of Cold War Studies at Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History)
PD Dr. Tobias Hof (Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich)

Cooperation partners:
Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ)
Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich
Munk School of Global Affairs/University of Toronto

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