School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences

Keynote speakers

Katharina Stornig, University of Giessen

Why we need to add women to humanitarian histories: archives, narratives and the production of ethical meaning

This paper aims to provide a systematic reflection on the historiographical implications of both the exclusion and inclusion of women and their voices to early humanitarian history. As Abigail Green has recently shown, the historiography of nineteenth-century humanitarianism is somewhat biased, for it has often been guided by the aim to explore the historical roots of present-day humanitarian concerns and engagement (2014). This produced a limited analytical perspective and the privileging of Protestant, secular, Anglo-American and male-dominated initiatives over other religious, national and female-dominated campaigns. Pleading to broaden the scope of research, Green particularly argues for the need to study the activities of women in order to achieve a more nuanced, contingent and thus properly historical understanding of the making of the early humanitarian enterprise. This paper not only aims to integrate female humanitarian initiatives but also strives to assess if and how the story changes once we explore humanitarian history through the sources produced by different groups of religious and secular women. Introducing different examples of German activist women from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it suggests that the inclusion of their voices and interpretations moreover allows us to deconstruct the gender bias and ideologies that dominated much of the male humanitarian writing of that time. By doing so, the paper argues for the need to go beyond essentialist, stereotypical or generalizing understandings of women’s roles in humanitarian campaigning e.g. as idealized care givers, but to study their motivations, interpretations and actions in historically situated encounters and at specific times and places.

Richard B. Allen, Framingham State University

Following the Dictates of Humanity: The British East India Company, Enslaved Children, Famine Relief, Native Hospitals, and Smallpox Vaccination, 1770s-1840s

During the mid-1780s and early 1790s, British East India Company (EIC) officials in India repeatedly expressed their concern that the enslavement, sale, and exportation of Indian children from the subcontinent contravened “the dictates of humanity,” sentiments which the company’s Court of Directors in London readily supported. The company’s humanitarian policies and practices were not limited, however, to seeking to ameliorate the plight of enslaved Indian children at a time when many Britons sought to abolish the British transatlantic slave trade. Recent research reveals that these policies and practices encompassed other important aspects of the human experience including famine and famine relief, the creation of charitable institutions such as orphanages, insane asylums, “native” hospitals, and public dispensaries, and the vaccination of millions of men, women, and children against the horrors of epidemic smallpox in South Asia and elsewhere in an oceanic world that extended to Sumatra, the Philippines, and southern China. This research reveals, moreover, that the articulation and implementation of these beliefs, policies, and practices began earlier than previously supposed, continued well into the mid-nineteenth century, and were often closely intertwined with each other.

The complexities of EIC endeavors to alleviate various forms of human misery between the 1770s and the 1840s challenge not only commonly held views about the nature and dynamics of company rule in India, but also the meaning and purpose(s) of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British imperial and colonial humanitarianism. In so doing, the company’s activities to end slave trading and slavery, to foster the well-being of the wider Indian public, and to lift the scourge of smallpox from humankind underscore the need to examine such endeavors in more fully developed social, economic, political, and historical contexts.