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This article surveys the wave of new historical and political-science literature exploring humanitarianism and the ‘pre-history’ of human rights in the long nineteenth century, noting the presentist assumptions underpinning much of this literature. On the one hand, histories of humanitarianism have focused on the origins of present-day humanitarian concerns, paying particular attention to the anti-slavery movement. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of this literature has explored Anglo-American (and usually Protestant) humanitarianism to the exclusion of the humanitarian campaigns and ideologies of other nations and faith traditions. A more properly historical approach is required, which would pay greater attention to the fusion of religious and secular traditions of activism, to the particular role of women in constituting these traditions, and to the different national contexts in which they bore fruit. Such an approach would also expand our understanding of ‘humanitarian’ activity to incorporate causes with less obvious present-day relevance, such as the temperance movement and Josephine Butler's campaign against the state regulation of prostitution. It would certainly prompt deeper reflection on the contingency of humanitarianism as a topic of historical inquiry, at least as currently constructed.

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Brasenose College, Oxford OX1
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I would like to thank the Historical Journal anonymous reviewers, as well as Ruth Harris, Derek Penslar, and Anne Summers, for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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1 Moyn, Samuel, The last utopia: human rights in history (Cambridge, MA, 2010).

2 Reprinted as Cmiel, Kenneth, ‘The recent history of human rights’, in Iriye, Akira, Goedde, Petra, and Hitchcock, William I., eds., The human rights revolution: an international history (Oxford, 2012), pp. 2751.

3 Barnett, Michael, Empire of humanity: a history of humanitarianism (Ithaca, NY, 2011), p. 5.

4 Bass, Gary J., Freedom's battle: the origins of humanitarian intervention (New York, NY, 2008).

5 Rodogno, Davide, Against massacre: humanitarian interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815–1914: the emergence of a European concept and international practice (Princeton, NJ, 2012).

6 Tusan, Michelle, Smyrna's ashes: humanitarianism, genocide and the birth of the Middle East (Berkeley, CA, 2012), p. 7.

7 Simms, Brendan and Trim, D. J. B., eds., Humanitarian intervention: a history (Cambridge, 2011). See also Klose, Fabian, ed., The emergence of humanitarian intervention: concepts and practices from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries (Cambridge, forthcoming).

8 Hunt, Lynn, Inventing human rights: a history (New York, NY, 2007).

9 Moyn, The last utopia, p. 6.

10 Besides Hunt, Inventing human rights, see Ishay, Micheline R., The history of human rights: from ancient times to the globalization era (Berkeley, CA, 2004).

11 Hochschild, Adam, King Leopold's ghost: a story of greed, terror and heroism in colonial Africa (2nd edn, London, 2006).

12 See Hunt, Inventing human rights, ch. 1, and the contributions to Wilson, Richard Ashby and Brown, Richard D., eds., Humanitarianism and suffering: the mobilization of empathy (Cambridge, 2009). On global civil society see, for instance, Keane, John, Global civil society? (Cambridge, 2003), and Chandler, David, Constructing global civil society: morality and power in international relations (Basingstoke, 2004).

13 See above all Simms and Trim, eds., Humanitarian intervention.

14 Moyn, The last utopia, ch. 1.

15 Rodogno, Against massacre, p. 6.

16 Rodogno, Against massacre, pp. 54–62.

17 Ashby Wilson, Richard and Brown, Richard D., ‘Introduction’, in , Wilson and , Brown, eds., Humanitarianism and suffering, p. 11.

18 Wilson and Brown, ‘Introduction’, pp. 11–12.

19 Ibid., p. 12.

20 Laqueur, Thomas W., ‘Mourning, pity and the work of narrative in the making of “humanity”’, in , Wilson and , Brown, eds., Humanitarianism and suffering, pp. 3157.

21 Reddy, William, ‘Sentimentalism and its erasure: the role of emotions in the era of the French Revolution’, Journal of Modern History, 72 (March Journal of Modern History), pp. 109–52.

22 Bew, John, ‘‘From an umpire to a competitor’: Castlereagh, Canning and the issue of international intervention in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars’, in , Simms and , Trim, eds., Humanitarian intervention, p. 137.

23 See for instance Bass, Freedom's battle, chs. 5 and 6.

24 Bew, ‘“From an umpire to a competitor”’, p. 136.

25 Contrast this approach with that taken in Barnett, Empire of humanity, chs. 2–3.

26 Moyn, The last utopia, p. 29.

27 See Bayly, C. A. and Biagini, Eugenio F., eds., Giuseppe Mazzini and the globalisation of democratic nationalism, 1830–1920 (Oxford, 2008), and Isabella, Maurizio, Risorgimento in exile: Italian émigrés and the liberal international in the post-Napoleonic era (Oxford, 2009).

28 Mazzini, Joseph, ‘Faith and the future’, in Life and writings of Joseph Mazzini, iii: Autobiographical and political (London, 1891), p. 99.

29 Ibid., pp. 111, 115.

30 Bayly, C. A. and Biagini, Eugenio, ‘Introduction’, in , Bayly and , Biagini, eds., Giuseppe Mazzini, p. 3, and the following articles also published in this collection: Eugenio Biagini, ‘Mazzini and anticlericalism: the English exile’, pp. 145–66, and C. A. Bayly, ‘Liberalism at large: Mazzini and nineteenth-century Indian thought’, pp. 355–74.

31 Summers, Anne, ‘British women and cultures of internationalism, 1815–1914’, in Feldman, David and Lawrence, Jon, eds., Structures and transformations in modern British history (Cambridge, 2011), p. 195.

32 Ibid., p. 192.

33 Schwegman, Marjan, ‘Amazons in Italy; Josephine Butler and the transformation of Italian female militancy’, Women's History Review, 17 (2008), pp. 173–8.

34 On this see Summers, Anne, Female lives, moral states: women, religion and public life in Britain 1800–1930 (Newbury, 2000), ch. 1.

35 Midgley, Clare, Women against slavery: the British campaigns, 1780–1870 (London, 1992).

36 Sklar, Kathryn Kish and Stewart, James Brewerr, eds., Women's rights and transatlantic antislavery in the era of emancipation (New Haven, CT, 2007).

37 On this see Summers, Anne, ed., ‘Gender, religion and politics; Josephine Butler's campaigns in international perspective (1875–1959)’, Women's History Review, 17, 2 (special issue) (2008).

38 Barnett, Empire of humanity, pp. 20–1.

39 See Summers, Female lives, moral states, chs. 3 and 4.

40 Tyrrell, Ian, Reforming the world: the creation of America's moral empire (Princeton, NJ, 2010), pp. 21–3.

41 Tusan, Smyrna's ashes, pp. 35–9, ch. 4.

42 Ibid., p. 116. On Lady Strangford's activities see pp. 85–7.

43 Tyrrell, Reforming the world, ch. 2.

44 Barnett, Empire of humanity, pp. 83–6.

45 On the female contribution to Buxton family politics, see Gleadle, Kathryn, Borderline citizens: women, gender and political culture in Britain, 1815–1867 (Oxford, 2009), especially ch. 7.

46 Hunt, Lynn, The French Revolution and human rights: a brief documentary history (Boston, MA, 1996), pp. 26–9.

47 Pateman, Carole, The sexual contract (London, 1988).

48 Ishay, History of human rights, pp. 160–5.

49 Iriye, Goedde, and Hitchcock, eds., The human rights revolution.

50 Black, Allida, ‘Are women “human”? The UN and the struggle to recognize women's rights as human rights’, in Goedde, Iriye and , Hitchcock, eds., The human rights revolution, p. 151.

51 Summers, Female lives, moral states, p. 121.

52 Summers, ‘British women and cultures of internationalism’.

53 Tyrrell, Reforming the world, p. 99.

54 Ibid., p. 106.

55 See for instance Ibhawoh, Bonny, Imperialism and human rights: colonial discourses of rights and liberties in African history (New York, NY, 2007), and the discussion in Cmiel, ‘Recent history of human rights’, pp. 34–6.

56 Moyn, The last utopia, pp. 37–41.

57 See Haskell, Thomas L., ‘Capitalism and the origins of the humanitarian sensibility, Part 1’, American Historical Review, 90 (1985), pp. 339–61; Haskell, Thomas L., ‘Capitalism and the origins of the humanitarian sensibility, Part 2’, American Historical Review, 90 (1985), pp. 547–66; Hunt, Inventing human rights; Wilson and Brown, eds., Humanitarianism and suffering.

58 See for instance the issues covered in Barnett, Empire of humanity; Simms and Trim, eds., Humanitarian intervention; Wilson and Brown, eds., Humanitarianism and suffering.

59 Hunt, French Revolution and human rights, pp. 24–6; Hunt, Inventing human rights, pp. 160–7; Sepinwall, Alyssa Goldstein, The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: the making of modern universalism (Berkeley, CA, 2005), ch. 8.

60 Viaene, Vincent, ‘Nineteenth-century Catholic internationalism and its predecessors’, in Green, Abigail and Viaene, Vincent, eds., Religious internationals in the modern world: globalization and faith communities since 1750 (Basingstoke, 2012), p. 104. On papal attempts to assert moral leadership through humanitarian activism, see especially Viaene, Vincent, ed., The papacy and the new world order: Vatican diplomacy, Catholic opinion and international politics in the time of Leo XIII, 1878–1903 (Leuven, 2005), part iv: the servant of humanity.

61 See for instance Moyn, The last utopia, pp. 54–5, 74–6, although Moyn stresses the Catholic church's well-established opposition to the language of rights before this time.

62 Green, Abigail, ‘The British empire and the Jews: an imperialism of human rights?Past and Present, 199 (May 2008), pp. 175205; Green, Abigail, ‘Intervening in the Jewish question, 1840–1878’, in Simms, and Trim, , eds., Humanitarian Intervention, pp. 139–58; Green, Abigail, ‘The limits of intervention: coercive diplomacy and the Jewish question in the nineteenth century’, International History Review, 36 (2014), pp. 473–92; Galchinsky, Michael, Jews and human rights: dancing at three weddings (Lanham, MD, 2008); Samuel Moyn, ‘René Cassin, human rights and Jewish internationalism’,

63 Preston, Andrew, Sword of the spirit, shield of faith: religion in American war and diplomacy (New York, NY, 2012).

64 Grant, Kevin, A civilised savagery: Britain and the new slaveries in Africa, 1884–1926 (Oxford, 2005), and Tusan, Smyrna's ashes, are good examples.

65 Tyrrell, Reforming the world, pp. 24–5.

66 See Drescher, Seymour, ‘Women's mobilization in the era of slave-emancipation: some Anglo-French comparisons’, in Sklar, and Stewart, , eds., Women's rights and transatlantic antislavery, pp. 98120, and the other essays in this volume.

67 Summers, ‘Gender, religion and politics’.

68 Bass, Freedom's battle; Rodogno, Against massacre; Donald Bloxham, The great game of genocide: imperialism, nationalism, and the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (Oxford, 2005). See also Part ii of Simms and Trim, eds., Humanitarian intervention, on the Great Powers and the Ottoman empire.

69 See Rodogno, Against massacre, ch. 4, and Davide Rodogno, ‘The “principles of humanity” and the European powers’ intervention in Ottoman Lebanon and Syria in 1860–1861’, in Simms and Trim, eds., Humanitarian intervention, pp. 159–83.

70 Caesar Farah, E., The politics of interventionism in Ottoman Lebanon, 1830–1861 (London, 2000); Leff, Lisa Moses, Sacred bonds of solidarity: the rise of Jewish internationalism in nineteenth-century France (Stanford, CA, 2006); Green, ‘Intervening in the Jewish question’.

71 On the mission civilisatrice, see Conklin, Alice, A mission to civilize: the Republican idea of empire in France and west Africa, 1895–1930 (Stanford, CA, 1997), and Conklin, Alice, ‘Colonialism and human rights, a contradiction in terms? The case of French west-Africa, 1895–1914’, American Historical Review, 103 (1998), pp. 419–42. On the complex relationship between Catholicism and secular republicanism in the French empire, see Daughton, J. P., An empire divided: religion, republicanism, and the making of French colonialism, 1880–1914 (Oxford, 2006).

72 Loth, Heinrich, Kolonialismus und ‘Humanitätsintervention’: Kritische Untersuchung der Politik Deutschlands gegenüber dem Kongostaat (1884–1908) (Berlin, 1966), and Willequet, Jacques, Le Congo Belge et la Weltpolitik (1894–1914) (Liège, 1962), represent a partial exception here, but were published some fifty years ago and consequently fail to engage with more recent historiographical concerns.

73 Clark, Christopher and Ledger-Lomas, Michael, ‘The Protestant International’, in , Green and , Viaene, eds., Religious Internationals in the modern world, pp. 2352.

74 Smith, Helmut Walser, German nationalism and religious conflict: culture, ideology, politics, 1870–1914 (Princeton, NJ, 1995), sets the parameters for recent work on German nationalism and Protestant culture. Conrad, Sebastian and Osterhammel, Jürgen, Das Kaiserreich transnational: Deutschland in der Welt 1871–1914 (Göttingen, 2004), captures the flavour of recent transnational approaches.

75 Laqua, Daniel, ‘The tensions of internationalism: transnational anti-slavery in the 1880s and 1890s’, International History Review, 33 (2011), pp. 705–26.

76 Brown, Christopher Leslie, Moral capital: foundations of British abolitionism (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006).

77 Grant, A civilised savagery.

78 Mazower, Mark, Governing the world: the history of an idea (London, 2012). See also Geyer, Martin H. and Paulmann, Johannes, eds., The mechanics of internationalism: culture, society, and politics from the 1840s to the First World War (Oxford, 2001).

79 Clark, Christopher and Kaiser, Wolfram, eds., Culture wars: secular–Catholic conflict in nineteenth-century Europe (Cambridge, 2003).

* I would like to thank the Historical Journal anonymous reviewers, as well as Ruth Harris, Derek Penslar, and Anne Summers, for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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