Seminar Series

New approaches to Medical Care, Humanitarianism and Violence during the ‘long’ Second World War, c. 1931 – 1953.

Our aim is to rethink the history of the long Second World War (1931-1953) from the perspectives of those who delivered and received medical and humanitarian care in various sites across the world. While the Second World War has served as a catalyzer of some significant institutional, scientific and normative innovations (including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and 1951), issues of medical and humanitarian care are areas of growing significance in studies of the conflict. Yet, until recently, studies of wartime humanitarianism have either tended to focus on ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’ approaches, specific non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, such as UNRRA (1943-1947), distinct national contexts or geographical areas. The seminar series will consider a broader range of humanitarian and health structures and explore how humanitarian and medical aid was experienced in wartime every-day life in both ‘traditional’ army medical health services and in ‘irregular’ wars.

Our starting hypothesis is that we need to rethink the history of wartime humanitarianism and medical care through a broader timeframe and consider the relevance of a ‘long’ Second World War.  This wider timeframe is meant to address a number of issues with the traditional chronology of 1939 to 1945.  In particular, this timeframe obscures important transfers of expertise and practices across spaces, between ‘civilian’ and military medicine, and over time.  Instead, our seminar series takes as its starting point the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, which led to the collapse of bilateral agreement and the progressive dislocation of the League of Nations, with the Japanese, German and Soviet departures in the 1930s.  It ends with the termination of the Korean War in 1953, and the subsequent dismantlement of the first United Coalition and UN Peace enforcement operation. This periodization allows us to consider significant extra-European spaces and conflicts, such as the Ethiopian War, civil wars (including the Spanish Civil War), “regular” and “irregular” warfare in occupied Europe and Asia, as well as the first decolonization conflicts. A second important aim of our approach is to bring together historiographical currents that exist in relative isolation, including the cultural and social history of war and studies of international laws and post-war trials. A third distinctive aspect of our series is to bring closer attention to the complex power and hierarchy relationships within medical and humanitarian spaces, to question the binary between ‘provider’ and ‘recipient’ of aid and to integrate different scale of analysis together. 

Through this seminar series we thus aim to showcase exciting and cutting-edge research on the history of medicine, captivity, displacement, humanitarianism, international laws, violence against health providers and patients, and stimulate conversation between historians and humanitarian practitioners. We welcome contributions questioning categories (who was consider a medic? a humanitarian actor? A regular fighter?), the legal protection of caregivers, humanitarian principles, in particular, the complex and highly debated issue medical neutrality and impartiality, attacks on healthcare providers, the way in which notions of “regular” and “irregular” warfare impacted medical staff, the ethical issues that actors confronted on the ground and the gendered and raced dimensions of medical heroism.

The seminar will take place on zoom once a month, on Tuesdays, from 11 to 13 (UK time). A short summary of the discussion will be published on our blog following each session.

Introduction – Seminar Series

Introduction to the seminar series (Laure Humbert, Bertrand Taithe, Marie-Luce Desgrandchamps, Raphaële Balu)

Programme – Seminar Series

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