Second Canadian Workshop on the History of Humanitarian Aid, May 30 2015

Saturday, May 30 2015 from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM (EDT), 1125@carleton, fourth floor, HCI building, Carleton University , 1125 Colonel By Drive , Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6

grenfell ESC1F1
Grenfell Stamp 2

Commemorative stamps for Wilfred Grenfell, British medical missionary in Newfoundland from 1892 to the 1930s, with the The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. See

Dear Canadian colleagues interested in the history of humanitarian aid, As you are in the process for making your plans for traveling to Ottawa for  Congress 2015  in early June, we are pleased to announce that Carleton will host the second small workshop for Canadians interested in the matter. This will be the occasion to: – exchange our respective research, practices and collections between historians, archivists and humanitarians; – take store of the projects of our partners in Europe, thanks to the presence of Kevin O’Sullivan, from the University of Ireland in Gallway; – think about improvements to the project of the common website we put together last summer; – help prepare the collaborative research grant I am putting together for the fall on researching, collecting and teaching the history of humanitarian aid in Canada There will be refreshments and food for lunch and breaks, the possibility of small grants for the extra nights for graduate students (do write to me if you would like to apply with a possible amount). Please register for the event here.

Thanks to the coordinating work of Sarah Glassford, Will Tait and Jill-Campbell-Miller, Congress will have at least three sessions of interest for our groups:

Tuesday June 2, 1:30-300

69. Roundtable – Public, Private, Political: Charitable Organizations and Citizen Engagement

Facilitator / Animateur : Lara Campbell, Simon Fraser University Sarah Glassford (University of Prince Edward Island)

Ian Mosby (McMaster University)

Will Tait (Carleton University)

Shirley Tillotson (Dalhousie University)

Jon Weier (University of Western Ontario)

Tuesday June 2, 3:30-4:30

77. Presidential Address / Discours présidentiel , Introduced by / Présentée par: Joan Sangster (Trent University)

Dominique Marshall (President of the Canadian Historical Association): Children’s Drawings and Humanitarian Aid: Transnational Expressions and Exhibitions/ Dominique Marshall (Présidente de la Société historique du Canada): Dessins d’enfants et aide humanitaire : expressions et expositions transnationales

Wednesday June 3, 3:30-5:30 - SMD/222

11. Capitals and Peripheries: Historical Perspectives on International Development Facilitator / Animateur : Ian Smillie (McLeod Group)

Stephanie Bangarth (Western University): “Is our assistance worthwhile?”: The Role of Tripartisanship in the Canadian Response to Refugee and International Development Crises, 1968 – 1978

Jill Campbell-Miller (Saint Mary’s University): Integrating History and International Development Studies: Lessons from the Canadian-Indian Aid Experience

John F. Devlin (University of Guelph): State Theory, Historical Sociology, and Comparative Agricultural Development

Kevin O’Sullivan (National University of Ireland Galway): Searching for a Saviour: Humanitarian NGOs and Human Rights in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s

Commentator / Commentateur : Ian Smillie (McLeod Group)

Co-sponsored by the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) and the Canadian Council on Migration, Ethnicity and Transnationalism / Coparrainée par l’Association canadienne d’études du développement international (ACÉDI) et par le Comité canadien sur la migration, l’éthnicité et le transnationalisme

We are looking forward to seeing you all.

History of voluntourism: “To Hell with Good Intentions”

* These pictures are better seen with  Firefox or Chrome browsers


This week Carleton’s student newspaper, The Charlatan, published a feature article on voluntourism.  The author, Erika Howes, asked me about the history of the phenomenon. One of the events I mentioned to Erica is the conference of Ivan Illich, the catholic priest, social critic, and missionary who, in the late 1960s, told American students eager to go and save people abroad to stay home.  International charities, he contended, were plagued with the kind of paternalism which still tainted the very kind of religious missions he was trying to reform from within.

The conference was brought to my attention last year by retired CBC radio producer David Cayley, during an interview where he recalled his days as an employee of the the small and main office of Oxfam Canada, then in Toronto, in the mid-sixties.  Well known later for the program Ideas, Cayley would come to  know Illich well, be able to conduct rare interviews with him, at the turn of the 1990s, and to write about his thoughts.  In the preface of the written transcript of their conversations, he recalls how he found the conference paper, in a bundle of material sent by the Canadian University Services Overseas  (CUSO)* to  returning volunteers like him.  Cayley had spent two years teaching in northern Borneo before working for Oxfam. CUSO’s leaders, he gathered, might have thought their own organization to be too good to be part of Illch’s indictment. But the sharp denunciation continued to trouble him.

Here is the text of the conference Illich gave in 1968, and which impressed the young Cayley, “The Hell with Good Intentions.” And here are a few audio recorded excerpt of their conversation, which address, in part, the question of good samaritans.

Cayley worked mainly at the education branch of Oxfam, touring schools and producing material to instruct young people at home about the Third World, to create the kind of “informed community” Illich was calling for.

Cayley's bulletin

Listen, the Educational Supplement to Oxfam Canada’s Bulletin, edited by Cayle and his colleagues on the mid- 1960s, to “Create an informed community” and “face the crisis of development”.

Still, when in Oxfam, he did organise a trip for Canadian high school students in Mexico, which, he reckons from later testimonies, transformed the lives of many.  The story has to be told more fully, but it is not unlike the adventure of British teenagers who went to Algeria in the late 1960s, this time with Oxfam UK. It was called “Operation Oasis“, and McGill Ph.D. candidate Marie-Luise Ermisch has written about this story in a blog for the  UK Voluntary Action History Society.

Today’s tensions around the “good intentions” of voluntourism, identified in The Charlatan‘s article, are also well documented in the anthropological study MA student Cassandra Verardy completed last year, for her MA thesis in anthropology at Carleton University, on “Perceptions of Voluntourism,” by interviewing a dozen of voluntourists.  Cassandra presented her thesis in three minutes last year, and here is the video.


Poster on Voluntourism prepared by thirs year students M. Dancho, in HIST 3111, Winter 2014

Last Winter in the course on the history of humanitarian aid I taught, Mackenzie Dancho prepared this potent visual summary of the dilemmas associated with voluntourism.  The display attracted a very large comments by fellow students, who are at once attracted to and concerned by, possibilities of volunteering and traveling abroad at the same time.

*See the free sample chapter on CUSO in India,  of Ruth Compton-Brouwer’s recent history of CUSO, based on volunteer’s interviews.

One day workshop to welcome Dr. Kevin O’Sullivan, Irish historian of humanitarian aid, July 9, 2014

Dr. Kevin O’Sullivan will be a visiting scholar at Carleton University from July 8 to August 4, to research Canadian archives.  Kevin is the architect of the rich , a founding member of ‘Transnational Ireland’ International Research Network and the author of many studies of Irish humanitarianism.   He is researching countries of the Commonwealth.


The workshop will take place in the History Lounge (Paterson Hall 433 – see Map of Carleton’s  Campus)


We will start at 8:30 in the morning and finish at supper time.  There will  be three distinct themes (research, future collaborations with archives and NGOS and teaching), in addition to a presentation by Kevin on his work and the state of affairs amongst his colleagues.  The following day, Dr. O”Sullivan will have individual appointments of an hour each with the graduate students participants who wish to meet with him.


This will be an occasion to exchange concerns, findings, information about archives and documents, practices and projects, collaborations with communities.


Carleton doctoral candidate and our research assistant Will Tait, and I will coordinate the day.  There will be food for all participants.  We do not have too much money, but do tell me if you would need assistance for your travel and accommodation.  We can also direct you to some hotels and Bed and breakfasts or residence rooms.


Kevin would like to visit the various NGO archives available in Ottawa, and also to work on materials relating to CIDA-NGO relations in the National Archives.  This will also be an occasion to assist him.


The number of places is limited.  If you would like to register, please contact me at dominique_marshall [at]

Press HERE to visit the password protected participants’ page (passwords and further instructions will be sent to those who register).

Thanks: We wish to thank the following institutions for their financial support:

*For more Red Cross Stamps, see the Pinterest page.

Next Friday event: Oxfam St John’s 1964-2014: remembering our history

Oxfam St John’s is closing this spring, following a debated reform of Oxfam Canada.  Its long time staff person, Bill Hynd, will host an event in a week.  This was the only regional office in Canada to own its own house, and one of the two regional offices left, of the dozen there once were at the peak of Oxfam Canada decentralization.  Over 40 years, the house became a centre of community life.  The NL Social Justice Cooperative will take over the role, from now on.

Bill Hynd in the offices of Oxfam St John's , 5 August 2013 when we visited.

Bill Hynd in the offices of Oxfam St John’s , 5 August 2013 when we visited.  Photo E. Marshall

Celebrations – On Friday March 28 2014, from 6 to 11 pm, at the Masonic Temple on Cathedral St.  Oxfam friends will be celebrating
Oxfam’s 40 Plus years of social justice Activism
Bill Hynd’s 30 years as an Oxfam staffperson
– the next 40 years with the NL Social Justice Cooperative

From 8 till 11pm We will have Music and dancing with:
The Salty Dolls and The moonshine men

Send your memories – Bill and I will use this website to collect memories and memorabilias.  So please send pictures, texts, scans, photos to us using this contact form.  If you need to send attachments, use my email address:

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I will exhibit your testimonies and pictures for all on a separate page of this website on Oxfam St John’s 1964-2014-A Virtual Archive unless you tell me to keep them private.  I will also copy these for the provincial archives who hold the fonds of Oxfam St Johns,.  I will use these documents for my own research, which you can follow on this website.

Comment on the items of the Oxfam St John’s 1964-2014-A Virtual Archive – Please help us identify the pictures already posted, using the same form: just refer to the name of the scrapbook/photo album/gallery, and the number of the item.

Give your old documents to the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and LabradorThe Provincial archives hosts the fonds of Oxfam St Johns’ which they are cataloguing at the moment.  If much was lost in the fire of August, an  earlier bundle of documents (13 boxes of them) had been given the the archives 20 years ago.  They are presently being catalogued and will be available to the public soon.  We can help put you in contact with them if you consider making a donation.

“Leave a comment” on the event – You may use the “Leave a comment” button just below, or Tweet using the hashtag #OxfamStJohns40.  I will be doing so from Ottawa as I won’t be able to join you.

The papers of Oxfam Canada’s longtime Chair, Meyer Brownstone, are now available

Archives and Research Collections, Carleton University, has just published a finding aid online of the collection our research project aquired in 2013.


Visit the ARC website.

For Paper Records
For his paper records, you need to go to  the “Search collection” tab of the Archives and Research Collection website, and then enter the “Finding Aid” database, where you type “Brownstone”
For Photographic Records
For his photographic records, you press the “photographic database” button instead; when asked for a word, you type “Brownstone”.  Meyer patiently described every one of his 800 and more slides.  You can see the images and search them by place, etc.

During the Winter, History Honours student Nathan Ince  catalogued the remaining audio, photo, slides  and video documents, thanks to an I-CUREUS grant.  Mr. Brownstone is actively involved in the project by writing  descriptions of the material, and comments on the old material.  This represents a precious collection for historians of humanitarian aid, philanthropy, public policy and advocacy.


Meyer Brownstone at home, in Toronto, speaking about his collection of papers concerning Oxfam Canada in Salvadorean refugee camps in Honduras in the mid 1980s, Fall 2012.

You can see a short video of his account of life in the refugee camps of Honduras. (by permission of the film  director) The papers concerning his stay in the socialist government of Saskatchewan of Tommy Douglas as an expert in agriculture are at the Provincial Archives of the province. Read his recollection of being in South Africa with Mandela, when he voted first.

The early papers of Oxfam Canada (from 1962 to the mid 1980s) are at Library and Archives Canada. Those of the closed regional office of Oxfam Calgary are at the Glenbow Archives. The papers of the regional office of Oxfam St John’s, due to close this Spring, are in part at the Provincial archives of Newfoundland, where they are awaiting cataloguing.

The archives of Oxfam UK were recently  given to the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, where they are currently being catalogued.  See the report of their progress, and  the BBC report of last year.