In October, the Resilient Humanitarianism Team presented a report to our Advisory Group, outlining our work in 2020. 

Here’s an overview of what we’ve been up to over the past twelve months with an update on our November activities. 


Project progress

Since our last report (December 2019), team members have continued to work on their individual research activities, while also contributing to the publication of our first co-authored article, which was published online in The International History Review in September.

A copy of the paper can be accessed under open access conditions via the Taylor & Francis platform. Please share the article with your colleagues and students.

See: Melanie Oppenheimer, Susanne Schech, Romain Fathi, Neville Wylie & Rosemary Cresswell (2020): ‘Resilient Humanitarianism? Using Assemblage to re-evaluate the history of the League of Red Cross Societies’, The International History Review.

“Through the lens of assemblage thinking and the five assemblage elements of exteriority, capacity to evolve, internal machinery, open systems, and desire, the paper seeks to understand the longevity and resilient humanitarianism of the LRCS. In doing so, the paper provides a new conceptualisation of the LRCS that helps to explain how it survived in the rapidly changing and increasingly contested international humanitarian environment of the twentieth century.”


The Resilient Humanitarianism Team at Flinders University, South Australia. L to R: Jordan Evans, Romain Fathi, Anna Wilkinson, Annmarie Reid, Melanie Oppenheimer, Susanne Schech.

The Resilient Humanitarianism team is also pleased to announce the publication of The Red Cross Movement – Myths, practices and turning points. Published by Manchester University Press as part of their ‘Humanitarianism: Key Debates and New Approaches’ series, the book was edited by team members Neville Wylie and Melanie Oppenheimer along with Advisory Group member Dr James Crossland. Neville, Melanie, and Rosemary Cresswell all have chapters in this edited collection, as does Advisory Group member Professor Davide Rodogno.

Last September, Neville Wylie attended the ‘Humanitarianism & The Greater War Conference’ at the Centre for War Studies, University College Dublin (5-6 September). He is now working on an edited collection with Elisabeth Piller (UCD Centre for War Studies), based on material from that conference.

In addition, Neville will soon commence work with Melanie Oppenheimer on an article about the work of Yvonne Hentsch, Director of the League Nursing Bureau for more than thirty years and Under-Secretary General of the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Melanie Oppenheimer will publish an article on League nurses in an upcoming edition of History Australia, the journal of the Australian Historical Association. The article titled ‘Nurses of the League: The League of Red Cross Societies and the development of public health nursing post-WWI’ is part of a special edition about ‘Cultures of Humanitarianism and International Development’, edited by Agnieszka Sobocinska and Melanie Oppenheimer. She has also recently completed a book chapter, ‘Gender, personalities and the politics of humanitarianism: Nursing leaders of the League of Red Cross Societies between the wars’ for an edited collection by Alan Lester, Joy Damousi and Trevor Burnard – Humanitarianism, Empire and Transnationalism in the Anglophone World, 1760-1995, to be published by Manchester University Press in 2021.

Melanie also recently published an online essay for Adam Matthew Digital – Medical Services and Warfare Collection. The essay, titled ‘The League of Red Cross Societies and its Nursing Bureau’, can be read online via the Adam Matthew site. Melanie has also been successful in winning a prestigious National Library of Australia Fellowship to progress her research on an intriguing power couple from early 20th century Australia, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson and our sixth Governor-General of Australia, Ronald Munro Ferguson. You can read more about it here.

Both Melanie and Neville have been invited to, and plan to attend, the ‘Governing Humanitarianism’ Herrenhausen Conference in Hanover (26-28 September 2021), along with Advisory Group member Professor Andrew Thompson who is one of the conference organisers.

Romain Fathi has been investigating the work of the French Red Cross between the wars, with a particular emphasis on the intersection of French foreign policy and the work of the Red Cross.

Due to international travel bans, the one-day symposium that Romain had planned to host at the Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po (Paris, France) in June 2020 has been postponed until June 2021. It is hoped that ‘The Red Cross Movement, Voluntary Organisations and Reconstruction in Western Europe in the 20th Century Symposium’ can take place in Paris as planned but we may shift to an online format if this is not possible. We will provide further details regarding the symposium in due course.

Congratulations also to Romain on the release of Proximity and Distance: Space, Time and World War 1which was co-edited with Dr Emily Robertson. Published in April 2020 by Melbourne University Press, this book explores how participants and observers in World War I negotiated the temporal and spatial challenges of the conflict.

Susanne Schech has continued to work on a Cuban case study, focusing on the work of the Red Cross in the Cuban prisoner exchange in 1962.

Rosemary Cresswell’s publication of her book on a history of the British Red Cross has been held-over so that Rosemary can interview people about their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.  As part of the 150th Anniversary, Rosemary has also been involved in the creation of audio clips and text for the online exhibition 150 Voices. In addition, Rosemary has been working on an article on the League’s work to support refugees in the Middle East.


Student update – PhD & Honours

As reported in 2019, Flinders University has provided scholarship funding for a PhD student to join our research team. The scholarship was awarded to Jordan Evans, an Honours graduate from Flinders University School of History. Jordan took up the scholarship in February 2020 (when our academic year commences). His topic is “New Blood: The role of the League of Red Cross Societies in the development of blood transfusion services in Asian and African post-colonial states”.

Anna Wilkinson, who joined us this year to complete a BA Honours programme will soon submit her Honours thesis after successfully completing the required coursework. Her thesis topic concerns the League of Red Cross Societies’ Development Programme and the 1964 Sydney Forum.

PhD candidate Jordan Evans, Professor Melanie Oppenheimer and Honours student, Anna Wilkinson, presented papers at the Blood Workshop, The University of Adelaide, 2 November 2020.


Both Jordan and Anna presented papers with Melanie Oppenheimer at  a workshop hosted by The ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Adelaide, and Jordan also presented at the Flinders University CBGL and CHASS Spring Conference.


Digitisation of League materials from IFRC Archives

With overseas travel off the cards for the foreseeable future, Australian researchers in the Resilient Humanitarianism Project have had to rely on digital archive and library collections, and on the goodwill of the many librarians and archivists who have photographed, scanned and uploaded documents for our use. Where would we be without their wonderful assistance?

Thanks to Grant Mitchell and Mélanie Blondin at the IFRC we have been able to access important bulletins, reports, circulars, and letters needed for our research.

We have now received digitised copies of the League/Bedford College Old Internationals’ Newsletter and 1939-1946 issues of the League’s Bulletin from digitisation specialists Arkhênum. Materials have been converted to searchable PDFs.

The Resilient Humanitarian team wish to thank all of the librarians and archivists around the world who have helped us to locate materials during this period of isolation, along with colleagues and Advisory Group members who have so generously shared items from their own collections, and digital copies of their own work.