Reading Groups

The Research Program on Humanitarianism at the University of Connecticut is sponsoring 2 faculty study groups for AY 2011-12. See below for descriptions and contact information.

The History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights Reading Group, 2013-2014

The History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights reading group (led by Emma Gilligan and Glenn Mitoma) continued its consideration of the eighteenth century origins of humanitarian politics and practice, particularly in the context of the British Empire.

During the first session, the group reviewed Jenny Martinez, The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2012), which details the way in which British abolitionists used both international treaty law and quasi-international courts to attempt to suppress the slave trade. During the second session, the group reviewed James Heartfield, The Aborigines’ Protection Society: Humanitarian Imperialism in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, and the Congo, 1837-1909 (Columbia University Press, 2011), a book which presents a broad overview of the work of the paternalistic APS in the context of British imperialism.

For the Spring Semester, the group met once in April to discuss the edited volume Bearing Witness: Perspectives on War and Peace from the Arts and Humanities (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012), which focuses on approaches within literature and the visual arts to addressing the problem of representing, justifying, and/or opposing war. The spring session was designed to integrate the reading group’s focus with the Week in the Humanities events on “War and Its Meanings.”

Spring 2014

History and Human Rights Reading Group Meeting
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Discussed: Sherrill Grace, Patrick Imbert and Tiffany Johnstone eds: Bearing Witness: Perspectives on War and Peace from the Arts and Humanities (McGill Queens UP, 2012)

The Study Group of Refugees, Narratives and Media, 2013-2014

The Study Group on Refugees, Narratives and Media (led by Sarah Winter) turned its focus to visual media this year. In the fall, it discussed the genre of the photographic essay focusing on James Agee’s Cotton Tenants and Edward W. Said’s After the Last Sky, and a theoretical text by art historian T. J. Demos, The Migrant Image (Duke 2013). Demos draws extensively on Ranciere’s recent work on aesthetics. In the spring, we hosted Timothy Bewes (Brown University) for two sessions (two hours each) on Rancière’s theories of cinema and the real, with a focus on its implications for postcolonial cinema. These intensive seminars with Professor Bewes intersected closely with research already underway by several members of the study group.

Fall 2013

Media and Narrative Study Group Meeting
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Media and Narrative Study Group Meeting
Thursday, November 14, 2013

Human Rights, Humanitarianism and the Media Study Group, 2011-2012

Conveners: Kerry Bystrom (English), Kathy Libal (Social Work), and Michael Orwicz (Art History)

Beginning in 2009, this group has met regularly to study the intersection of human rights, humanitarianism, and the media. Since the rise of mass media in the early Twentieth century, intellectuals have shown discomfort with the visual register of modernity. Susan Sontag’s famous thesis in On Photography (1973) that photographs inhibit rather than assist people in their efforts to understand tragic events like war is a case in point. However, and as many commentators have pointed out, human rights activism and campaigns for humanitarian causes now take place largely on the visual plane.  The aim of this group is work through recent scholarship charting the complex relationship that has developed between visual and print media, public culture, and individual action. Along with theoretical texts on this topic by scholars such as Ariella Azoulay, Luc Boltanski, Allen Feldman, Lilie Chouliaraki and Thomas Keenan, we have examined the reportage of cases of specific interest to members of the group. In May 2009, the group hosted a Human Rights Institute Faculty Workshop on the topic “Beyond Suffering: Human Rights, Humanitarianism and the Media.”

Spring 2012 Event Schedule:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 : Kelly Matheson: WITNESS & Video Advocacy  (article will be distributed; browse WITNESS website in advance)
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM Dodd Conference Room 162

Tuesday, March 06, 2012 : Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, Verso, 2009
5:00 PM – 6:30 PM Dodd Conference Room 162

Sunday, March 25, 2012 : Lilie Chouliaraki visit (readings provided in advance)
2:30 –  5:30 Art Building 222

Thursday, April 12, 2012 : Sharon Sliwinski, Human Rights in Camera, Chicago, 2011
5:00 PM – 6:30 PM Dodd Conference Room 162

For more information or to join the group, please email Kerry Bystrom ( or Kathy Libal (

Origins and Evolution of Humanitarian Thought Study Group, 2011-2012

Conveners: Emma Gilligan (History/HRI) and Glenn Mitoma (HRI)

Over the course of the academic year 2010-2011, the Humanitarianism History reading group met regularly to discuss articles and books on the topic of the origins and evolution of humanitarian thought. Among the books covered were Mark Mazower’s No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations, Samuel Moyn’s The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, and Eyes off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 by Carol Anderson. The group read and discussed a range of articles by Clodagh Tait, David Edwards, Pádraig Lenihan, Micheál Ó Siochrύ and selections from Richard Wilson’s recent book, Writing History in International Criminal Trials.

Spring 2012 Event Schedule

Wednesday, March 7th 2-3:30pm where we will discuss Reza Afshari, “On Historiography of Human Rights Reflections on Paul Gordon Lauren’s The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen” and the Introduction to Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen.

Wednesday, April 18th 2-3:30 pm where we will discuss Johannes Morsink, Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration.

Both meeting will be held in the Humanities Institute.

We welcome graduate students and participants from outside institutions. For all of those interested in participating, please contact Emma Gilligan at (

Narrative and Human Rights Study Group, 2011-2012

Convener: Sarah Winter (English)

In previous years, the goal of this group has been to investigate how narrative representations function to convey understanding and urgency in the field of human rights. We began studying the uses of narrative broadly defined across genres and disciplines, including, history, philosophy, literature, literary theory, law, journalism, rhetoric, and psychology. Working across historical periods and instances when human rights have come into question since the eighteenth century, we have been particularly interested in investigating the locations and opportune moments of human rights narratives: where and on what kinds of formal and informal occasions such stories are elicited and told, not only in texts but also in legal testimony, private letters, photographs, or archival documents. One of our goals has been to develop historically-based methods of analysis to determine how narratives about human rights, whether violated or upheld, can emerge into larger public awareness, and how the effects of such accounts on political or humanitarian response and action can be demonstrated.

Spring 2012 Event Schedule

Tuesday, February 28 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM in Dodd Conference Room 162.
Special Multi-Reading Group Meeting and Dinner with Kelly Matheson, attorney, filmmaker and Program Manager at WITNESS, on the topic of video advocacy for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo <>

Thursday March 8 4:00 – 5:30 PM in the small conference room at HRI
Readings: from the UNHCR report  “DRC: Mapping Human Rights Violations 1993-2003”

TBA: Further meetings to discuss Didier Fassin’s Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present and to meet with Garth Myers, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Urban International Studies at Trinity College  <>

For all of those interested, please contact Sarah Winter (