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HIST3229 Sweet Charity?

Module Overview

When was the last time you gave to charity? What did you donate – old clothes, books, money, or perhaps your time? Have you ever been sponsored to raise money for a ‘good cause’? Do you put your change into collection boxes? Do you buy ‘fairtrade’ chocolate or coffee? Have you ever bought a copy of the Big Issue? Do you pay to carbon offset your flights? Do you wear a Poppy in November? Or a Red Nose in March? Charity, the voluntary act of giving to those in need, has been present in societies around the world and throughout history. Religions exhort their followers to give to those less fortunate than themselves. The imperative to alleviate the burdens of the old, the young, the hungry and the sick is central to our conception of shared humanity. Both giving and receiving charity is a profoundly human act. But the history of charity is complicated. Some charities were founded to promote causes that we now think of as immoral or misguided. In the past, charities undertook work that we now think of as the responsibility of the state – or the individual. Charitable giving has gradually shifted from a local activity that took place within communities, to a global machine – the multi-million pound enterprise of humanitarianism – which is most often aimed at recipients in other countries. Charitable giving has always been controversial – from the argument that people should not rely on handouts, to the idea that charity should begin at home. On this module, we will think about some of these controversies through a historical and international lens, taking a comparative approach to explore a broad range of charities, societies and historical periods. We will think about charity, humanitarianism and philanthropy, how these concepts differ, and how they have developed over time. We will explore charity as a type of political activism, as a religious act, and as a strategic weapon, and think about how this has changed over a wide time period and between different regions and cultures. We will compare different recipients of charitable aid, what it means to receive charity, and how this has changed over time. We will also compare different ideas about what it means to be a donor of aid, and how different people, groups and organisations have promoted and organised charitable giving. This course will involve a rich and varied comparative historiography, and a strong focus on primary material, exploring a range of sources from government documents, religious texts, visual and material culture, diaries, oral histories and institutional records.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Introduce the significance of charity as an historical theme • Examine the social, political and cultural consequences and implications of charity and humanitarianism • Understand how charity might bring about or avoid change • Investigate the long and short-term consequences of a variety of case studies

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Specific instances of charitable campaigns and their consequences across a range of cultural, political, religious and social institutions and behaviours
  • How charitable giving has changed over time
  • How charity and humanitarianism has effected the donor and the recipient
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Elaborate and express your ideas and critical reflections in essays, using primary and secondary sources.
  • Gather and digest relevant primary and secondary source materials including via electronic and web resources
  • Give oral presentations and actively take part in discussion.
  • Engage in independent study and research.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate and compare different genres of source text
  • Understand how to identify common themes through different kinds of discourses
  • Understand how to apply historiographical debates to a variety of case studies
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Assess the impact of a variety of charitable campaigns
  • Analyse the experience of charity as donor and recipient
  • Make connections between different charitable campaigns
  • Critically analyse why some charitable campaigns are successes and others are failures
  • Understand how to conduct comparative historical study and how to assess its value


Topics to be covered may include: - Philanthropy, charity and humanitarianism: An Introduction - The Deserving and the Undeserving Poor - Religion and Charity - The Politics of Giving - Charity and Activism - War and Humanitarianism - Charity for Children - Gender and Charity - Overseas Aid and Development - Disease and Disability - Hunger and Famine - Race, Empire and Humanitarianism

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• Introductory seminar on vocabulary and the historiography of charity and humanitarianism • Weekly seminars (weeks 2-10) examining themes and topics around charity and humanitarianism • Student presentations in which groups will analyse case studies in line with the terms explored in the weekly seminars These themes will be explored through comparative case studies covering charitable campaigns that may include: the settlement of Pennsylvania for Persecuted Quakers; the establishment and promotion of Charity Hospitals; the British Sunday School Movement; the campaign against the slavery and the slave trade; the development of humanitarian thinking in the nineteenth century with organisations such as Barnardo’s children’s charity, the International Council of the Red Cross and the social housing movement; the interwar explosion of international philanthropy and charity through organisations such as Save the Children and the Rockefeller Foundation; the growth of international and transnational aid organisations like UNICEF, Oxfam and the FAO in the context of globalisation and decolonisation; and later twentieth century multimedia campaigns such as the Live Aid concerts and Comic Relief.

Completion of assessment task36
Wider reading or practice96
Preparation for scheduled sessions96
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Lawrence Friedman and Mark D. McGarvie (eds) (2003). Charity, Philanthropy and Civility in American History. 

Frank Prochaska (1990). The Voluntary Impulse: Philanthropy in Modern Britain. 

Amy Singer (2008). Charity in Islamic Societies. 

Jane Lewis (1995). The Voluntary Sector, the State and Social Work in Great Britain. 

Peter Stamatov (2015). The Origins of Global Humanitarianism. 

Michael Barnett (2011). Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism. 

Bruno Cabanes (2014). The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism 1918-1924. 

William Easterly (2007). The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. 

Jonathan Benthall and Bertrand Taithe (2016). Islamic Charities and Islamic Humanitarianism in Troubled Times. 

Dean Pavlakis (2016). British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913. 

Matthew Hilton (2011). The Ages of Voluntarism: How We Got To the Big Society. 

Caroline Shaw (2015). Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief. 

Eleanor Davey (2015). Idealism beyond Borders: The French Revolutionary Left and the Rise of Humanitarianism 1954-1988. 

David Owen (1964). English Philanthropy 1660-1960. 

Roger Bremner (1994). Giving: Charity and Philanthropy in History. 

Jane Lyden (2016). Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire. 

Amartya Sen (2001). Development as Freedom. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 50%
Exam  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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