Esther Möller

Humanitarian NGOs in the 20th century

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Over the last twenty years there has been considerable interest among scholars in the history of international aid and humanitarian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This interest can be explained by the success of new approaches to history writing, and in particular to the emergence of international, transnational and global histories. These new approaches have focused on the border-crossing activities of individuals and of non-governmental institutions, such as international NGOs. In truth, the history of humanitarian NGOs had started being written almost as soon as the first such organizations had been founded, although such accounts were often written by people close to the organizations themselves, and thus from an entirely positive, or indeed apologetic, perspective. This article will discuss three recent studies by Emily Baughan, Daniel Maul and Kevin O’Sullivan which contribute to a more nuanced and critical understanding of the internal and external representation of humanitarian NGOs, and of their role in international, as well as in specific domestic, policies.


  • Humanitarian Aid
  • NGOs
  • 20th Century


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