Tehila Sasson Contributes to ‘Past & Present’ Roundtable

Assistant Professor of History Tehila Sasson recently contributed to a roundtable for the journal Past & Present on the expanding field of research about the history of humanitarianism. Sasson, a specialist in Britain in the World, is currently completing her first monograph, provisionally titled We Are the World: Humanitarian Ethics, Global Markets and the End of Empire. Read an excerpt from her contribution to the roundtable below along with the full discussion here: “History and Humanitarianism: A Conversation.”

“I came as a sceptic to this field. In the political landscape where I grew up in Israel, human rights and humanitarianism have often been used as empty rhetoric to justify forms of intervention and governance rather than to offer any real political alternative to minorities and refugees. My first encounter with the works of Hannah Arendt, Didier Fassin and Jacques Rancière during my undergraduate studies in 2003 was formative to the way I came to perceive the field politically as well as intellectually. Human rights and humanitarianism, I learned from them, offered a thin political framework, indeed too thin, that was stripped of any robust notion of obligation, responsibility and rights. A class I took with Wendy Brown and Saba Mahmood later in graduate school taught me that not only rights discourse but also moral technologies carry with them an entire array of contradictions connected to empire, religion and the economy.”