Research Program on Humanitarianism

The Research Program on Humanitarianism (RPH) brings together UConn faculty from across the humanities and social sciences, as well from the Schools of Social Work and Law, for an ongoing discussion on the history and experience of humanitarian crisis and action, and the analytical and creative engagements that reflect on them.

RPH builds on the core belief that humanistic approaches are vital to understanding the major humanitarian crises facing global society and to human rights discourse more broadly. The program runs two faculty study groups – the RPH Forum and the History of Human Rights and Humanitarianism Colloquium – and sponsors public events open to faculty and students, including the Magnet Scholar Program.

Our Programs

The RPH Forum

A space for interdisciplinary dialogue on issues that require perspectives and expertise from multiple fields. Contributors represent the fields of history, art history, literature, critical theory, philosophy, political theory, anthropology, sociology, and law.

History of Human Rights and Humanitarianism Colloquium

A space for interdisciplinary dialogue on issues that require perspectives and expertise from multiple fields. Contributors represent the fields of history, art history, literature, critical theory, philosophy, political theory, anthropology, sociology, and law.

Magnet Scholar Program

Bringing visiting scholars to UConn annually to lead a series of seminars on current research topics. Past RPH Magnet scholars include:

Our History & Focus

The program was originally founded in 2005 by Professor Richard Wilson, director of UConn’s Gladstein Family Human Rights Institute, and Professor Richard Brown, a former director of the UConn’s Humanities Institute. The original name was Foundations of Humanitarianism Research and Teaching Program.

Its first research initiative involved tracing the intellectual, social, and cultural origins of the ethos of humanitarianism—the ideology and sensibility that has generated and sustained assertions of human rights for at least the past two centuries. This research project led to the international conference “Humanitarianism and Narratives of Inflicted Suffering” (Fall 2006) and to the publication of Wilson and Brown’s edited volume Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Since then, under the direction of Professor Alexis Dudden (History), Professor Kerry Bystrom (English), Professor Eleni Coundouriotis (English), and now Professors Sarah Winter (English) and Sara Silverstein (History and Human Rights), the program has broadened its early emphasis on the historical construction of humanitarianism to explore issues in contemporary human rights, humanitarian law, and humanitarian intervention. It further works to assess the future of humanitarianism in relation to rival paradigms that articulate the connections and responsibilities that individuals, states, and transnational groups have to other human beings and the shared world in which they live. Specific threads of research include:

  • Shifting meanings of humanitarianism and responsibility in the era of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine
  • History of human right campaigns
  • Gender in humanitarian and human rights reportage
  • Role of mass media and alternative forms of new media in shaping human rights and humanitarian advocacy work
  • Politics of refugee crises and refugee camps

Annual Activities


The Research Program on Humanitarianism (RPH) constitutes the most important element in HRI’s support for scholarship in the Humanities and in the Arts.  It has enjoyed remarkable participation from faculty and the momentum continues to grow. 


In addition to individual scholarly accomplishments, RPH organized the following activities:

  • Book discussion (11/ 12/2019) led by Glenn Mitoma and Sarah Winter, focusing on Alexandre Lefebvre, Human Rights and the Care of the Self (Duke UP, 2018). Faculty participants in attendance represented the departments of philosophy, history, literature, cultures, and languages, english, and the School of Social Work.
  • Our History Reading Group discussed: 
    • Fall 2019: Silvia Salvatici’s A History of Humanitarianism, 1755-1989: In the Name of Others and Peter Hoffman and Thomas Weiss’ Humanitarianism, War, and Politics: Solferino to Syria and Beyond
    • Spring 2020: Randall Packard’s A History of Global Health: Interventions into the Lives of Others


Additionally, RPH scheduled two events during the spring 2020 semester which were cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19 which mandated campus closure. These events will be rescheduled during the 2020-2021 academic year:

  • Visiting Scholar, Carolyn Dean, Professor of History, Yale University. Her seminars were scheduled for Monday, March 30 from 4-6 and Tuesday March 31 from 12:00-2:00. During the first seminar we were planning to discuss her recent book The Moral Witness: Trials and Testimony after Genocide (Cornell University Press, 2019). She also provided a packet of assigned readings for the lunch seminar on March 31.
  • A lecture by human rights and literature scholar, Joseph R. Slaughter, from Columbia University was scheduled for Thursday, April 23 at 4:00 in Austin 217. This event was co-sponsored by the English department. The title of his talk was “World Literature Is Burning! The Second Russell Tribunal and the Neoliberal Turn in Human Rights.”


RPH Magnet Scholar Visit

Political philosopher Margaret Moore from Queen’s University, Canada gave two seminars for our group on Thursday-Friday, January 31-February 1 2019. We discussed her highly-regarded book, A Political Theory of Territory (Oxford UP 2017), and her recent essay, “The Taking of Territory and the Wrongs of Colonialism.” The seminar discussions with Professor Moore were lively and very productive. Twelve HRI-affiliated faculty participated from UConn departments and programs including: Political Science, History, English, German (LCL), Anthropology, Law, Social Work, Neag School of Education, WGSS/Geography, and Human Rights. After her visit, Professor Moore shared her positive impressions of our research group: “What a great, collegial group of scholars! And I came away with a real appreciation for this inter-disciplinary spirit, which I hope to emulate (and also try to do something like that here [at Queen’s University]).”

Co-Sponsored Events:

  • Fall 2018: Visit and lecture by Mofidul Hoque. “War, Memory and Museums: Insights from Mofidul Hoque” (Co-founder of the Liberation War Museum, Bangladesh), Monday, November 12.
  • Spring 2019: Visit and lecture by Jasbir. K. Puar, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University, “Homonationalism in Trump Times,” March 28, 2019


Invited RPH magnet scholar Elizabeth S. Anker gave two seminars in April 2018 for the larger interdisciplinary group. A scholar of human rights and literature with a specialization in postcolonial studies, Liz Anker is Associate Professor of English and affiliate faculty in Law at Cornell University. These seminars were well attended and produced valuable discussions of critical controversies surrounding theories of human rights. The RPH program also hosted a lunch talk in April by Indian human rights activist and scholar Binalakshmi Nepram, who is the founder of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network and Convener of the Global Alliance for Gender Justice, Peace & Equality and currently a visiting professor at Connecticut College. Her account of Manipur women’s collective resistance to kidnapping and conscription of their children by armed groups was very impressive.

The RPH study group focused on human rights history had been on hiatus since 2016-17 but restarted during Spring 2018. The group met twice to discuss two recent books: Steven L. B. Jensen, The Making of International Human Rights: The 1960s, Decolonization, and the Reconstruction of Global Values and Fabian Klose, Human Rights in the Shadow of Colonial Violence: The Wars of Independence in Kenya and Algeria. We are looking forward to the arrival this fall of Sara Silverstein, Assistant Professor of Human Rights and History, to contribute to this group and lead it in the future.


  • Research Program on Humanitarianism Workshop (10/7/2016)
  • Research Program on Humanitarianism Reading Group
    • Michael Barnett (George Washington University) (11/14/2016)
    • Michael Barnett (George Washington University) (1/23/2017)
    • Pooja Rangan (Amherst College): "Having a Voice": Autism, Humanitarianism, Documentary (3/3/2017)
  • Research Program on Humanitarianism (co-sponsor) Ismail Einashe (Journalist, UK): “Becoming British: Citizenship & Belonging Post-Brexit” (3/21/2017)
  • Research Program on Humanitarianism Reading Group Discussion (4/4/2017)


Spring 2016
Alexandra Schultheis Moore
"What Can Human Rights Films Do?: Precarity and the Politics of Visuality in Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence"
March 31, 2016

Reading Group with Keith Watenpaugh on Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism
April 13, 2016

Reading Group with Elizabeth Hinton on From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America
April 28, 2016
Fall 2015
Nadifa Mohamed, "Writing Women, Writing War"
October 7, 2015

Reading Group with Charlotte Walter-Said, “The Historiography of Human Rights in Africa”
October 22, 2015

Magnet Scholar Thomas Keenan
Theme for 2015-2016: On Theories of Evidence
October 1, 2015
December 3, 2015
February 12, 2016

Spring 2015
Dr. Ryan Carlin, "What Kinds of Justice do Colombians Want from the Peace Process?"
March 12, 2015

Lidwien E. Kapteijns, "Clan Cleansing in Somalia: Coming into Speech and Writing History in the Aftermath"
March 31, 2015

Fall 2014
Elizabeth Samet, "Reading and Writing War in a Sentimental Age"
September 29, 2014

Avelina Crespo, "Portraiture and Its Uncertainties"
September 30, 2014

Meghan Marie Hammond, “The Empathy Imperative: Feelings with Others in the Humanities Classroom”
October 16th, 2014


Discipline and Care: Health Rights in a U.S. Women’s Jail
Dr. Carolyn Sufrin (UCSF/UC Berkeley)
Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 5:00pm-6:30pm

Women Behind Bars
Film Screening and Panel
Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 4:00pm-6:00pm

Incarcerated Women and Reproductive Health Care: Opportunities and Challenges for a Vulnerable Population
Dr. Carolyn Sufrin (UCSF/UC Berkeley)
Thursday, April 11, 2013, 12:00pm-1:30pm

Moral Progress – Again: Harm Reduction and the Repetition of the State in Human Rights Practices
Dr. Jarrett Zigon
Monday, April 22, 2013, 12:00pm-1:30pm


“Afghanistan in the Vortex: Humanitarianism in Question,” roundtable discussion with policy analysts, reporters, and practitioners (April 2011)

“The Arts and Human Rights in Latin America: Perspectives from Marcelo Brodsky and Alfredo Jaar,” a public presentation by two of the foremost Latin American artists (March 2010)

Lectures by prominent scholars including Dr. Keith Watenpaugh (Religious Studies and Human Rights, UC Davis) and Dr. Eduardo Cadava (English and Comparative Literature, Princeton)

Fall 2008: In the Balance: Humanitarianism and Responsibility (

**Papers from this conference and more recent responses to the question of humanitarianism and responsibility are currently being collated for a special edition of the Journal of Human Rights, co-edited by Kerry Bystrom and Glenn Mitoma, scheduled for publication in December 2012.

Co-sponsorship of Connecticut Repertory Theatre productions including David Edgar’s compelling play on refugee crises, Pentecost, directed by Gary English (December 2007)

Fall 2006: Humanitarianism and Narratives of Inflicted Suffering (2006 HRI Conference)
**A collection of papers from this conference was published as an edited volume by Richard A. Wilson and Richard D. Brown, Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy (Cambridge UP 2009)



sara silverstein

Sara Silverstein

Co-Director, Research Program on Humanitarianism
Assistant Professor, History & Human Rights

sarah wInter

Sarah Winter

Co-Director, Research Program on Humanitarianism
Professor, English