Humanitarian Imperialism: The Politics of Anti-Slavery Activism, 1880-1940

ISBN : 9780198733034

Amalia Ribi Forclaz
256 Pages
175 x 222 mm
Pub date
Feb 2015
Oxford Historical Monographs
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Between the late 1880s and the onset of the Second World War, anti-slavery activism experienced a revival in Europe. Anti-slavery organizations in Britain, Italy, France, and Switzerland forged an informal international network to fight the continued existence of slavery and slave trading in Africa. Humanitarian Imperialism explores the scope and outreach of these antislavery groups along with their organisational efforts and campaigning strategies. The account focuses on the interwar years, when slavery in Africa became a focal point of humanitarian and imperial interest, linking Catholic and Protestant philanthropists, missionaries of different faiths, colonial officials, diplomats, and political leaders in Africa and Europe. At the centre of the narrative is the campaign against slavery in Ethiopia, an issue which served as a catalyst for the articulation of international humanitarian standards within the League of Nations in Geneva. By looking at the interplay between British and Italian advocates of abolition, Humanitarian Imperialism shows how in the 1930s anti-slavery campaigning evolved in close association with Fascist imperialism. Thus, during the Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935, the anti-slavery argument became a propaganda tool to placate public opinion in Britain and elsewhere. Because of its global echoes, however, the conflict also generated worldwide protest that undermined the beliefs and certainties of anti-slavery campaigners, resulting in a crisis of humanitarian imperialism. By following the story of anti-slavery activism into the post-1945 period, this volume illuminates the continuities and discontinuities in the international history of humanitarian organizations as well as the history of imperial humanitarianism.


1. The Anti-Slavery Revival, 1888-1914
2. The League of Nations and Slavery, 1919-1926
3. Popular Anti-Slavery Campaigns in Britain, 1927-1933
4. Italian Anti-Slavery, Catholicism, Colonialism, and Fascism, 1919-1933
5. The War on Slavery: The Italo-Ethiopian Campaign
6. The Crisis of Anti-Slavery Activism
Conclusion: The End of Humanitarian Imperialism?

About the author: 

Amalia Ribi Forclaz was born in Switzerland and studied at the University of Bern, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and the University of Oxford, where she gained her PhD. She is currently a research fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Her research interests focus on the global history of slavery and abolition, the history of humanitarian organizations in the context of imperial expansion, c. 1880 to 1940, and the international history of agricultural development. Amalia lives in Lausanne with her husband and her two daughters.

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