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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Historical perspective impacts on changes in humanitarian aid

New interpretations of emergency humanitarian aid affect the development of International policies.

HCRI and Red Cross logo
HCRI is one of a small number of academic partners with whom the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has developed an online university postgraduate course.

Research into the history of humanitarian responses has provided a new perspective on emergency aid. Our findings are important to recent international policy innovations such as the UK International Emergency Trauma Register.

International humanitarian medical relief work dates back to the nineteenth century but our recent research into its historical roots has altered understandings of its past and present.

Our reinterpretation of how humanitarian efforts and technologies are organised and carried out has been taken up by international policy makers, medical practitioners and leading research institutions, with notable testimony to the relevance of the work from The British Academy, Handicap International, Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross.

Key benefits from the research:

  • An engagement in the debates on the key values and principles of Médecins Sans Frontières (MFS) – one of the largest medical emergency aid charities
  • Creation of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute to drive interdisciplinary academic research on humanitarian aid
  • Basis of an online masters qualification, developed in partnership with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which has over 90 students from over 40 countries
  • Creation of the UK International Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR) to support health professionals wanting to assist in overseas emergencies
Number 650 written over photograph of collapsed building
650 persons in NGO audience that Professor Taithe spoke to on the theme 'Tough choices – ethical challenges in humanitarian aid'.

Our research

Professor Bertrand Taithe leads our research into the history of humanitarian relief.

Key findings:

  • A genealogy of mid-nineteenth century humanitarian work that is rooted in a missionary and colonial past
  • An understanding of the historical past of humanitarian technologies and techniques that influence how aid is delivered and perceived today
  • The historical and current interplay between medical interventions and their political context

Professor Taithe's studies on the history and political context of amputation led to his involvement with Handicap International and the UK evaluation of the Haiti relief effort in 2010 funded by the Department for International Development. His qualitative assessment brought into sharp relief Haitian perspectives on the standards of surgical interventions and poor levels of documentation and coordination in the international effort, observations which led directly to the creation of UKIETR.

Lead academic

Video: What is Disaster Management?

Staff at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute discuss the key issues of disaster management and their current research in this area.