Humanitarianism and Its Legal Limits: Gendered Activism in Wartime, 1864–1914

Monday, January 5, 2009: 8:30 AM
Lenox Ballroom (Sheraton New York)
Jean H. Quataert , Binghamton University (State University of New York), Vestal, NY
Quataert’s contribution represents a new research project on the formative decades in the development of international humanitarian law.  It focuses on the many debates generated by the practical implementation of the Geneva Conventions, from their first formulations in multilateral treaty form in l864 to their revisions in l906, placing these debates within the wider movement to codify the international laws of war at the two Hague Congresses in l899 and l907.  As both discourse and practice, the Conventions contributed to new humanitarian sentiments that were circulating in the societies of the ratifying states; simultaneously they operated in transnational spaces on the battlefields of wars between states and empires and in colonial contexts.  The presentation addresses both the limits of humanitarian action, which relieves the “excesses” but not the structural roots of calamity, and demonstrates how these sentiments opened new gendered spaces for civil defense and citizenship claims.  As an historically situated discourse, humanitarianism became embedded in the wider debates about war and peace, neutrality, “civilized” behavior, humanity and national identity that were affecting the relations among peoples in the emerging international order.  As treaty law, it was laying a new foundation for international relations. The presentation probes the ways historical research challenges the claims of law to autonomy from its political contexts and the framework it legitimizes.
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