North Coast at Lesbos, September 2015, by Rosa-Maria Rinkl via Wikimedia Commons, source.
“Human Rights and Humanitarianism – a Complicated Relationship?” – September 27, 2021, 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CET): panel discussion with Michael Barnett(George Washington University), Julia Irwin(University of South Florida, Tampa), and Angelika Nußberger (University of Cologne), chair: Fabian Klose (University of Cologne).
UNSG’s Special Advisor on the prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng speaking to the press in Tshikapa (by MONUSCO/Biliaminou Alao, 2017, source)
“Forced displacement, unlawful internment, and humanitarian neutrality” – September 28, 2021, 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CET): keynote by Adama Dieng (former Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and Honorary Chair of the World Justice Project; chair: Andrew Thompson (Nuffield College, Oxford).
What in the photograph looks like a beautiful landscape today, used to be a dangerous border crossing zone between France and Spain in the first half of the 20th century, which many people crossed in flight.
Flight refers to escape by way of physical movement. However, people are not always able to flee by relying only on themselves. In some cases, people are locked up, as in the case of prison inmates, and perhaps hope for the aid of guards. Others stand in front of seemingly insurmountable seas, mountains or rivers and depend on the help of people who know the landscape and its secret pathways. One such example is Walter Benjamin, who fled across the Pyrenees, this beautiful landscape depicted above, in September 1940 with the help of Lisa Fittko. Others are confronted with “closed” borders and need the support of border guards. People who flee with the help of others take risks. They have to trust others out of necessity, and thus put their destiny in their hands.
Escape assistance can take various forms. Those who provide aid can furnish provisions and hide refugees, they can also issue new passports or lead refugees across a mountain range – as Lisa Fittko did. She not only helped Walter Benjamin but also numerous other refugees to cross the Pyrenees. Escape aid is any action that is carried out to help those escaping risk of death by persecution, torture or death. Escape assistance should not be considered as lugging (Schlepperei), which is motivated by enrichment, in principle. It can be an act of resistance against a political regime, but can also be carried out for humanitarian or altruistic reasons without material motivation (even today, human trafficking without intent to enrich goes largely unpunished). Continue reading →
As recently as 2015, travellers to Turin and eight other south and west European cities (Milan, Genoa, Florence and Rome, Paris and Marseille, Valencia as well as Lisbon) could take advantage of a special offer: a city tour provided by migrant residents. This initiative, co-funded by the European Union, aimed to allow visitors to experience the city “through different eyes.” The tourists took on the role of migrants whereas the latter functioned as locals. Thus, different forms of mobility – such as migration and travel – and their appendant overlaps and effects could be explored conjointly.
But the question arises: Can we indeed trace the historical experiences of heterogeneous migrants through such participatory tourist practices? Can we apply the public enactments and shared personal experiences of guided tours likewise to forms of mobility such as escape, which are associated with existential threat and which have been controversially discussed and managed, for instance since 2015? What can historians contribute in view of recent disputes in Europe and elsewhere, particularly given the necessity of balancing different historical experiences, interpretations and memories?
Following a frequently used refugee route
In some regions, refugee movements form part of public commemorative culture. Among numerous other memories, histories of flight and escape are thus immediately visible there. As part of a curricular excursion, we travelled to such a region, namely the French-Spanish Pyrenees, along with students of the Justus Liebig University Giessen in the summer term of 2019. Our focus was a 15 km trail that cuts through the mountains. This trail follows the refugee route taken by Walter Benjamin in his attempted escape from French Banyuls-sur-Mer to Portbou in Spain. Continue reading →
The international Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy(GHRA) offers research training to PhD candidates and early postdocs. It combines academic sessions at the Imperial and Global History Centre at the University of Exeter and the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz with archival sessions at the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The Research Academy is for early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies, human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century as well as the institutional history of the ICRC and the development of its fundamental principles. It supports scholarship on the ideas and practices of humanitarianism in the context of international, imperial and global history thus advancing our understanding of global governance in humanitarian crises of the present.
In July 2019, the Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy
will first meet for one week in Mainz for academic sessions of lectures, class
meetings and discussions, including study time (the academic meetings rotate
annually between Mainz and Exeter; in the previous year this meeting took place
in Exeter). PhD students will have the chance to sharpen the methodological and
theoretical focus of their thesis through an intense exchange with peers,
postdocs, and established scholars working in the same or related field of
humanitarianism. The postdocs
will benefit from discussing their research design and publication strategy
with established scholars.
The academic session at Exeter or Mainz is each year followed by a one
week archival session at Geneva. Here the archives of the ICRC offer a unique
insight into humanitarian action during the past 150 years. The holdings provide
rich material, including visual material, for the history of international
affairs in the ages of nation states, empires and global governance,
particularly the study of humanitarianism, humanitarian law, conflicts studies
as well as related issues such as human rights. Under the guidance of
experienced archive staff, the members of the Research Academy will study
primary sources related to the previous discussions at Exeter as well as to their
own research projects if applicable.
Opportunities may also be provided for intensive discussions with active
members of the ICRC staff and other Geneva based humanitarian organisations.
Each selected academy fellow receives the cost of travel to Mainz
and accommodation in Mainz and Geneva. Academy fellows will be asked to
purchase their travel to Geneva as proof of their commitment to attending the
The Research Academy
invites applications for the 2019 Global
Humanitarianism | Research Academy (GHRA) from PhD students and early
postdocs. The Steering Committee will select up to 12 participants. Applicants
must be able to certify that they are fluent in both written and spoken English,
the Academy’s working language. Participants of the international Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy will be chosen
by the Steering Committee on the basis of
a cover letter (maximum 350 words) setting out the applicant’s motivation for participating in the academy and indicating the anticipated outcome of their research;
a statement (maximum 1,000 words) summarizing their research project;
a brief curriculum vitae (maximum 2 pages);
two supporting letters from appropriate referees.
This application should be compiled by the applicant and the whole set of papers including reference letters should be submitted as a single PDF, with the file saved as ‘LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME.PDF’. To apply, please send your application consisting of one pdf-document with the Subject “Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy” to the organisers at email@example.com by December 31, 2018.
The German Historical Association (Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands) passed a resolution on present threats to democracy at its bi-annual meeting in Münster
The German Historical Association (VHD) held its bi-annual meeting, the Historikertag, from 25-28 September in Münster, Westphalia. The 3.700 visitors debated the theme “Divided Societies” (“Gespaltene Gesellschaften”) in almost 100 sessions and panels ranging from ancient to contemporary history. The topic was also intensively discussed with regard to historians’ role in the present. Initiated by Dirk Schumann and Petra Terhoeven from Göttingen and supported by a group of a dozen historians, the General Meeting on 27 September passed a resolution on the present threats to democracy (“Resolution des Verbandes der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands zu gegenwärtigen Gefährdungen der Demokratie”). An overwhelming majority of the several hundred members present voted in favour of the Münster declaration (pdf german)(pdf english)
The resolution defends key principles against present-day threats posed by populists’ voices and activities. It argues amongst others for a historically sensitive language against discriminatory cries like “Volksverräter” or “Lügenpresse” reminiscent of the anti-democratic rhetoric in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century. It further appeals to hold up humanitarian principles and international law with regard to asylum seekers and refugees calling to mind past German deeds and experiences. The declaration also mentions the search for European cooperation that emerged from the bitter strife and conflicts during period of two world wars as well as the principles of debating in pluralist democracies. The resolution concludes with an appeal to study the past critically so that political abuse in the form of fake history can be rejected based on scholarship.
The resolutions has already attracted comments in the press. See for example
During the General Assembly and in a panel discussion on the previous evening, members of the German Historical Association discussed not so much the detailed points in the draft resolution, nor did they question the exact wording. A large majority appeared to support the key principles. The foremost question was whether and how historians should intervene in political debates. Some argued against a resolution on particular political issues although they generally supported the ideas and values of the text. They preferred to focus on threats to freedom of research and the democratic conditions necessary to maintain that freedom. Few saw the resolution as a party political statement or pointed out that a rhetoric of crisis might fuel the danger. That the declaration was also directed against the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was plain without that party being explicitly mentioned. Nevertheless, most recognized that the text was on the defence of principles rather than policies and does not support positions of any single political party.
Those in favour agreed that historians should give guidance based on their scholarly expertise. Historical guidance for the public usually takes the form of analysis and historical explanations. However, it seemed to the majority that present threats called also for normative statements. One speaker reminded the assembled historians of Theodor Mommsen’s intervention in the anti-Semitism debate in 1880 and declared that Mommsen’s principled stance may serve as a positive reference for today’s German Historical Association. Distinguishing between the historian as scholar and expert on the one side and the historian as citizens on the other was described as a moot and artificial point under present circumstances. It was felt that historians should explicitly defend those principles of pluralist society under attack from populism at present. One speaker from Chemnitz and another one from a memorial site (Gedenkstätte) in Lower Saxony strongly urged those present to pass the resolution because they needed this kind of support by the professional organisation against the current, sometimes daily threats to their freedom of research. The final vote by showing of hand demonstrated that German historians as an organised profession overwhelmingly recognized the present threats and saw the need to defend key principles of pluralist and democratic society.
Sport was an integral part of life in camps during the twentieth century, even in Nazi concentrations camps or in the Soviet Gulag. Traditionally perceived as a symbol of equality, play, and peacefulness, sport under such unexpected circumstances irritates most observers, back then and today.
Thomas Geve, Sport (Auschwitz I), 1945. Thomas Geve was deported to Auschwitz in 1943 as a 13-year-old. He survived. See his memoirs “Geraubte Kindheit: Ein Junge überlebt den Holocaust” (Bremen 2013; first pb. as “Youth in chains”. Jerusalem 1958).
This volume studies the irritating fact of sport in penal and internment camps as an important insight into the history of camps. The authors enquire into case studies of sport being played in different forms of camps around the globe and throughout the twentieth century. They challenge our understanding of camps, question the dichotomy of insiders and outsiders, inner-camp hierarchies, and the everyday experience of violence. This fresh perspective complements the existing camp studies and gives way for the subjectivity of camp inmates and their action. Read or download the introduction “Why the History of Sport in Penal and Internment Camps Matters” here.
Against All Odds: How to Re-Inscribe Islam into European History
The central place that Muslims and Islam are accorded in the European media and public debates today contrasts with their near-complete absence in parts of European historiography until recently, Manfred Sing argues in his recent essay on Islam and European History.
Participants of the first congress of European Muslims, Geneva 1935. Picture: Van Beetem’s Family Archive (The Netherlands) – ERC Starting Grant “Muslims in Interwar Europe”, University of Leuven – n° 336608.
While right-wing demagogues campaign against refugees, Muslims and the supposed Islamization of Europe, their argument that Islam does not belong to Europe is, at least partially, supported by the rather patchy awareness of a continuous and multi-facetted Islamic history in European societies and, horrible dictu, even in some history departments. Recent research challenges this neglect, tries to overcome the “Othering” of Islam, and demands a new conceptualization of European history that leaves behind the Europe/Islam binary. As the construction of a European identity and a European space is based on “Othering” – a definition of what is not European -, the conscious and visible integration of Muslims into European history poses a systematic challenge to narratives of Europeanization. The article draws attention to the difficulties that spring from this challenge and discusses new approaches in scholarship that try to overcome them.