Aims of the project

We ask some fundamental questions in this research project.

How does an idea – becoming an exemplary global community of humanitarians – become a reality, and by what measures can we define success?

How did the League survive through the interwar period and sustain itself during World War II when its founding members were, once again, at war? What was its relationship with the Swiss based International Committee of the Red Cross, founded in 1863?

What are the geopolitical features of the Red Cross Movement that allowed the League to withstand the competition, tensions, rivalry, and contested agendas within the increasingly crowded international humanitarian space?

In particular, how did the League negotiate and expand with new nations emerging out of the decolonisation process and then assist them in forming Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies?

The hypothesis of this project is that through the new concept of ‘resilient humanitarianism’, the internationalism of the League of Red Cross reflects the local, national and international, nestled within the humanitarian aspirations of a Red Cross ideal. In this project, the League becomes the site of a new and tangible internationalism. It is both an international and transnational story – international because it concerns what happens between states – and transnational because the actions and interactions cross borders of states.

To test the concept of ‘resilient humanitarianism’, the project explores a network of ideas, personalities and institutions, and the political, spatial and cultural narratives of this federated organisation through three main themes. The project is underpinned by an innovative theoretical framework of voluntary action, humanitarianism and actor/network theory based around a series of case studies.

Through four time periods, there are three main themes:

  1. Building up of national societies and league infrastructure
  2. Development of public health initiatives
  3. Disaster management (aid and relief efforts)

We will focus on a number of case studies that cross time, place and theme with the League of Red Cross Societies and its relationships, connections and synergies with a range of national Red Cross Societies. These include but are not limited to the Bedford College public nursing programmes of the League; the reconstruction work of national Red Cross societies in the 1920s; the role of blood transfusion services; the Junior Red Cross; the Joint Relief Commission; South America and the Pan American Bureau; the Malayan Emergency, the Nigerian Civil War; as well as the African famine of the 1980s.