A meeting place at last

Peace & Security03 Jun 2011Thea Hilhorst

Many years ago, I used to be involved in a network of people studying the Philippines. We had conferences every two years, and over the years we developed quite a strong network. When I moved into the study of humanitarian aid, disasters and conflict, I started asking around where the ‘humanitarian hub’ normally met. That was no easy question. There were quite a few conferences that hosted panels on my topics, and there were some conferences addressing certain aspects, for example the recurring conferences on forced migration.

It took me a while to realize that other people were equally looking for the right meeting place. And so the idea was born to organize the first World Conference on Humanitarian Studies, in 2009. Hosted by the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and organized together with Wageningen University and the University of Bochum. We had 450 participants, half of them from outside of Europe. They were excited to finally have a venue for humanitarian studies. One participant came with five papers, which he had assembled over the years and had never been able to present!

At the conference we founded the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA). It is hosted in Wageningen, where I am its general secretary. We defined humanitarian studies as research concerning the origins of humanitarian crises, the way they evolve, how crises affect people, institutions and societies, and the responses they trigger. Humanitarian studies in our definition deal with every aspect of humanitarian crises caused by conflict, natural disaster or political failure.

An important objective of the IHSA is to organize a biannual conference. This week, the second conference is taking place in Boston. Hosted by Tufts and organized together with Columbia, Harvard and the SSRC. We have more than 400 registrations and while I am sitting here writing my blog, participants walk into the welcome area. What a delight to see so many familiar and new faces! It seems that humanitarian students have found a home at last!

Thea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian aid and Reconstruction at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.