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5 Last updated 9 October 2020.
Research Expertise and Interests
I am Senior Lecturer in Modern History with a special interest in the nineteenth and twentieth century history of modern war, humanitarian aid and empire. I am currently Co-I on the AHRC funded Emily Hobhouse Letters Project
I have long been interested in the origins of British relief organisations and their interventions in conflicts from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 to the First World War and beyond. This has involved research into the early years of organisations such as the British Red Cross Society and Save the Children Fund and some of the protocols, practices and technologies that they developed, as well as the motivations and ideals of individual relief workers. This was the subject of my book Calculating Compassion: Humanity and Relief in War, Britain 1870-1914 (Manchester University Press, 2013). On the topic of ‘Humanitarianism and the Great War’ see my contribution to the special edition of the website 1914-18 online: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/discussion_humanitarianism?version=1.0
I am also very interested in the local history of international activism, and part of my research has involved uncovering the reception and accommodation of Belgian refugees in Britain during the First World War. Recently I have been tracing their arrival in Huddersfield and the surrounding textile districts and their work in the textile mills, which I explore in the article, ‘Brave little Belgium’ arrives in Huddersfield ... voluntary action, local politics, and the history of international relief work’, Immigrants and Minorities, 34/2, pp. 132-150, May 2016. I have now started a project with my colleague Dr Rob Ellis into Belgian refugees' experiences in workhouses and asylums, which has led to a concern more generally to understand the history of refugees' mental health and institutional care.
My interest in the local history of activism in the Great War led to my involvement in an AHRC Gateways to the First World War Centre project on Adult Education and the Great War, with Prof Alison Fell (University of Leeds) and Rob Hindle (Regional Organiser for the Workers’ Educational Association). We worked with local WEA groups to research the history of child labour in the textile districts of Bradford, Huddersfield and other local towns during the war and to explore the WEA's campaign for its abolition (http://www.gatewaysfww.org.uk/blog/child-labour-fww )
The history of Belgian refugees and Belgian relief work led me to the question of how atrocities in Belgium, Armenia and elsewhere in the First World War were represented and understood. This spurred me to research the work of the ‘atrocity expert’ and historian Arnold Toynbee and in particular his journalism for the Manchester Guardian. This interest formed the basis of my collaboration with Tom Crook and Bertrand Taithe and my chapter in our book Liberal Civilization and its Discontent: Evil, Barbarism and Empire (Palgrave, 2011) and to my contribution to the Radio 4 programme ‘Toynbee at War’, broadcast 16 Oct 2017.
In 2010, I was awarded funding from the Nuffield Trust to undertake research into the history of Save the Children Fund's educational work in Britain, and collaborated with Dr Daryl Leeworthy to explore its campaign to establish voluntary nursery schools in deprived areas in the interwar years. We published this as, ‘Moral minefields: Save the Children Fund and the moral economies of nursery schooling in the South Wales coalfield in the 1930s’, Journal of Global Ethics, 11/2, pp. 218-232, August 2015.
With Helen Dampier (Leeds Beckett) as PI and Cornelis Muller (Sol Plaatje University) as Co-I, I am working on the AHRC Emily Hobhouse Letters Project www.emilyhobhouselettersproject.wordpress.com
to uncover Emily Hobhouse's contribution to international peace, relief and reconstruction in the South African War and First World War through her letters and artefacts. Part of this project has involved working with our partners at the Bodleian Library in Oxford to oversee the cataloging of the Emily Hobhouse papers, a selection of which are now available digitally: https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/Discover/Search/
We have become increasingly interested in Emily Hobhouse’s Boer Home Industries scheme (on which we presented at the annual CHORD conference https://retailhistory.wordpress.com/category/conference-blogs/ ) and wish to explore more generally the history and current use of arts and crafts by humanitarian agencies. To do so we are co-hosting a workshop with the Textiles Department at Huddersfield University and with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute on the history of Humanitarian Handicrafts in June 2019. Further information can be found at www.humanitarianhandicrafts.com
Our project Exhibition War Without Glamour: Emily Hobhouse's peace activism, 1899 - 1926 will open at Huddersfield on 27 June 2019 and will tour to the Hull History Centre, Leeds Beckett University, the Alfred Gillett Trust, Somerset, and Liskeard Museum in Cornwall (full itinerary including public talks available on the project website). A display of Hobhouse's letters and papers will open in September 2019 at the Bodleian Library.
The exhibition will launch in South Africa on 1 July 2019 as part of the Free State Arts Fesitival and we will be holding an 'in conversation' event on the legacy and contemporary relevance of Hobhouse's book War Without Glamour as part of the Free State Literature Festival on 5 July 2019.
I am also currently collaborating in a Spanish Research Council funded project, ‘Relief action and medical technologies in humanitarian emergencies, 1850-1950’, led by Prof Jon Arrizabalaga (Research Professor at the Spanish National Research Council) which brings together scholars in European institutions to explore the gendered and emotional histories of humanitarianism in different national settings and through different international organisations.
As a member of the ‘Humanitarianism Working Histories’ network, organised by Dr Eleanor Davey at the Humanitarianism and Conflict Response Institute in Manchester, I meet bi-annually with colleagues in participating institutions across the north of the UK to share our research and support ECR in this field and would welcome contact from anyone wishing to join us.
With Dr Lindsey Dodd I co-convene the MA by Research in the History of Childhood in conjunction with Leeds Museums and Galleries, and the Holocaust Learning and Exhibition Centre at Huddersfield, who have given our students privileged access to their childhood collections and the opportunity to collaborate in their public history activities such as exhibitions and events.
Research Expertise and Interests
- refugee history
- relief work
- Emily Hobhouse
- Quaker history
- liberal internationalism
- Red Cross
- Save the Children Fund
- women's history
- First World War
- Arnold Toynbee
- Belgian refugees
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- 1 Finished
Humanitarian handicrafts: Testing the relationship between archival history and hands-on craft makingGill, R., Barber, C. & Taithe, B., 10 May 2021, In: FormAkademisk. 14, 2, 11 p., 4181.
Research output: Contribution to journal › Conference article › peer-reviewOpen Access
The 1938 International Committee of the Red Cross Conference: Humanitarian diplomacy and the cultures of appeasement in BritainGill, R., 24 Mar 2020, The Red Cross Movement: Myths, practices, turning points. Wylie, N., Oppenheimer, M. & Crossland, J. (eds.). Manchester University Press, p. 213–229 17 p. (Humanitarianism: Key Debates and New Approaches).
Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding › Chapter › peer-review
Gill, R. & Muller, C., 19 Jan 2018, In: Safundi. 19, 1, p. 16-35 20 p.
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-reviewOpen AccessFile
Gill, R., 2016, Local History News, 119, p. 6-7 2 p.
Research output: Contribution to specialist publication › ArticleOpen Access
‘Brave little Belgium’ arrives in Huddersfield… voluntary action, local politics and the history of international relief workGill, R., 19 May 2016, In: Immigrants and Minorities. 34, 2, p. 132-150 19 p.
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-reviewOpen Access