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Reviewed by:
  • Agents of Internationalism
  • David Bryan
AGENTS OF INTERNATIONALISM, Birkbeck College, London, 19–2006 2014

This was the first in a series of events organized under the umbrella of the Reluctant Internationalistsproject at Birkbeck, funded by Jessica Reinisch’s Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, which is examining the development of international collaboration in twentieth-century Europe. By focusing on the actors involved in international institutions and movements, the workshop aimed to highlight the complex and multi-faceted history of internationalism, with particular attention to Europe and the role of health and medicine.

The first panel looked at refugees as agents of internationalism. Matthew Frank(University of Leeds) examined the idea of population transfer as a natural co-determinant of internationalism and an enduring pan-European response to the problems posed by minorities. From the Greco-Turkish population exchange of 1923 through [End Page 313]the German resettlement agreements of 1939–40 and on into the postwar era, there were those, such as the Greek statesman and jurist Nicolas Socrate Politis, who argued for the idea of transfer as ‘surgery’ for an unhealthy Europe. Despite widespread opposition, Politis and his supporters tapped into disillusion with the League of Nation’s minorities regime and helped to promote the idea that population transfers were the long-term route to European peace and prosperity. Isabella Löhr(University of Basel) challenged standard periodizations of internationalism by looking at transnational networks of refugee scholars from the late 1930s through to the postwar era. Despite their internationalist discourse, these networks functioned within national frameworks. Their links to organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation often blurred the line between refugee relief and existing structures designed to facilitate international professional mobility. Peter Gatrell(University of Manchester) examined the interplay between the ‘national’ and ‘international’ in the history of refugees. Refugee relief was first partially internationalized in 1919 following the Russian crisis and helped to validate the work of international organizations and NGOs throughout the twentieth century. Internationalism was also an important discourse within refugee relief after the Second World War and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. However, nations were the site of solutions for most refugees, and the international refugee-relief system was unavoidably moulded by nations and national concerns. Although often presented as a fundamentally international phenomenon, nations and nationalism have been central to the history of refugees and refugee relief.

The second panel addressed the related theme of relief workers, with both speakers examining case studies from the organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). Eleanor Davey(University of Manchester) looked at the relationship between the MSF and its short-lived think-tank the Fondation Liberté sans Frontières (LSF). The LSF campaigned against the Third Worldism of the French Left and the humanitarian community, and sought to link the concept of economic and social rights to political and civic rights. While the MSF justified this political stance through its practical experience, the controversy surrounding the LSF both at home and abroad challenged the MSF’s relationship with its international affiliates, its work in the field and its legitimacy as a humanitarian actor. Bertrand Taithe(University of Manchester) discussed Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand during the 1970s and 80s and their role in forming international epistemic communities among European relief workers. Their experiences in Cambodia helped to internationalize the MSF and other relief organizations, with workers on the ground shaping ideas and practices relating to humanitarian relief, which in turn influenced the organizations they worked for and the wider international community of humanitarian professionals. Although relief workers have always thought and acted internationally, the development of an international humanitarian profession has proved to be complex, contested and politically charged.

The panel on collaborators examined both alternative, non-liberal models of internationalism and the role of public health in fostering international co-operation. Marius Turda(Oxford Brookes) looked at the case of European Latin Eugenics, a mix of neo-Lamarkism, social hygiene, public health and Catholicism which saw itself as distinct from Anglo-Saxon and German eugenic traditions. As well as forging links with [End Page 314]colleagues in Latin America, experts from Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and Romania came together through organizations such as...


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pp. 313-318
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