Continuity, change and contest: meanings of ‘humanitarian’ from the ‘Religion of Humanity’ to the Kosovo war

Research reports and studies
August 2012
Katherine Davies

This study examines the evolving meaning of the term ‘humanitarian’, from its emergence in the mid-nineteenth century through to the end of the twentieth century.

As part of the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG)’s project on the ‘Global History of Modern Humanitarian Action’, its primary objective is to trace the development of the concepts and ideas that the word denotes and connotes, the ways in which the word has been used (and ‘misused’) and its discursive operations.

More specifically, the study explores how the goals of humanitarian action have developed, the principles that guide it, the range of actors that pursue it and its relationship with politics. The study is not a history of humanitarianism; rather, it seeks to show how the term is reflective and constitutive of humanitarian action.