Course Spotlight: The Need to Help – A History of Humanitarianism

Course Description

What motivates us to try to alleviate the suffering of people in distant parts of the world? This is one of the questions that threads through this course on the global history of humanitarianism. Students in this course will examine the origins of humanitarian ideas and institutions, and how various humanitarian campaigns have been shaped by geopolitical processes, including the abolition of the slave trade, the spread of missionary Christianity, European imperialism, the Cold War, and economic liberalization. Questions include: who has benefited from various humanitarian aid campaigns throughout history? How have various humanitarian campaigns shaped, and been shaped by, patterns of global inequality? Why have some populations, and not others, been deemed worthy of the world’s compassion? We will explore the worlds, perspectives and visions of humanitarians through a range of primary sources, including diary entries, memoirs, journalistic reportage, photography, documentary film, and archival sources about Wisconsin-based humanitarian campaigns held in the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Sample Readings

  • The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, Written by Himself (1789)
  • E.D. Morel, Red Rubber: The Story of the Rubber Slave trade that flourishes on the Congo for twenty years, 1890-1910,  (1919).
  • Susan Sontag, Regarding the Suffering of Others
  • Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor
  • Lisa Richey, Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World

Course Details

History 201: History of Humanitarianism
4 credits
Tues./Thurs. 4:00-5:15PM, L185 Education Building
Spring 2018

About the Instructor

Emily Callaci is an historian of modern East Africa, with a research focus on twentieth century urban Tanzania. She is the author of a book about urban migration and cultural politics in Tanzania, entitled Street Archives and City Life: Popular Intellectuals in Postcolonial Tanzania. She is currently working on a second project on the transnational history of the family planning movement in twentieth century Africa. Emily’s teaching interests include urban African history, gender and sexuality, humanitarianism, popular culture, Islam in Africa, and African intellectual history.