British Humanitarian Thought, The Morant Bay Massacre, and the Bulgarian Atrocities

Author: Casey Raeside

Raeside, Casey, 2022 British Humanitarian Thought, The Morant Bay Massacre, and the Bulgarian Atrocities, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Many in the 21st century are familiar with the concepts of human rights and humanitarian action to alleviate the suffering of individuals around the world. Research in the political sciences has argued that the concepts of universal rights and modern humanitarianism was a result of the second world war and the reaction to the Holocaust. In the last two decades historians have attempted to historicise human rights and humanitarian action, especially in the Western European context. This thesis shows that within the British context during the long decade of 1865 to 1877, there was a clear development of humanitarian thought and rhetoric and a burgeoning sense of rights that apply beyond the immediate context of British subjecthood. As seen in the case studies of the British public response to the British massacres in Morant Bay, Jamaica, in 1865, and the Ottoman massacres in Bulgaria, in 1876, various strands of humanitarian thought can be identified. These strands fall into three broad categories: religiously motivated humanitarianism, a humanitarianism based in the concepts of law and international obligations, and a humanitarianism focused on the secular concepts of sympathy and liberal humanism. What is demonstrated is the idea that despite the motivations of individuals, there was a common language of humanity and humanitarianism that was used to express political discontent with either British imperial actions or British foreign policy distinctions. As such, humanitarianism and human rights discourse can be historicised into the 19th century British context, which in turn provides a more nuanced understanding of how individuals and groups frame their concern for those suffering from their predispositions. This in turn allows for a more nuanced understanding of modern humanitarian discourse and action.

Keywords: humanitarianism, human rights, british history, imperialism, jamaica, bulgaria

Subject: History thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Andrekos Varnava