Dr Eleanor Davey


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Research interests

My research and teaching interests fall into two main areas: the history of humanitarianism, with a particular focus on the period during and following decolonisation; and the history of memory and how it has shaped intellectual engagement, with a focus on France. These interests are reflected in my doctoral and postdoctoral research exploring the relationship between humanitarianism and radical politics from the 1950s to the 1990s. 

In addition, I also work on the role of history in humanitarian and development policy, having led a project at the Overseas Development Institute on the uses of history in humanitarian action. Entitled A Global History of Modern Humanitarian Action, this work covered the twentieth century history of humanitarianism and its connection to current policy and practice. I am currently involved in a collaborative initiative between the ODI's Humanitarian Policy Group and the University of Manchester's Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute to develop an online platform for humanitarian history.

Current project

Relief and the people: humanitarianism and the struggle for national liberation

Funded by the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme, 2014-2017

This project will provide a missing empirical and ideological account of the relationship between anti-colonial movements and humanitarian action during the Cold War. It seeks to understand how the politics of national liberation has influenced ideas about humanitarianism and human rights and the enduring norms that shape practice today. The project has two main components. First, it considers how international norms were affected by the ideology and presence of national liberation movements in key forums. The major study for this component considers the debates of the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts, which took place in Geneva in four sessions from 1974-1977, resulting in Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions and the elevation of wars of national liberation to the status of international conflicts. Second, it looks at humanitarian operations in selected wars of national liberation, self-determination, and secession: in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, in Western Sahara, and in the Ethiopian Civil War. The aim is to shed light on the impact of these exchanges upon the evolution of humanitarianism over four decades. Examining the interactions of British and French non-governmental organisations with liberation movements in Africa from 1956 to 1991, it asks what they shared on the level of politics, goals and attitudes and how they influenced each other.

PhD supervision

Postgraduate opportunities

I welcome applications for PhD research on the history of humanitarian ideas and practices; the history of human rights; activist and intellectual responses to decolonisation and the 'third world'; and memory studies particularly as they relate to conflict and humanitarian action.

Current research students

  • Jennifer Chapman, 'Evolving emergency medical response in the UK humanitarian sector' (NWDTC CASE studentship in collaboration with Save the Children UK)
  • Talita Cetinoglu, 'Humanitarian programming: an inquiry into ethical dilemmas and the politics of practice'
  • Margot Tudor, 'Blue Helmet bureaucracy: peacekeeping as a colonial ambition, a lesson in governance, and the exploitation of "humanitarianism"'


Research and projects

No current projects are available for public display