Caroline Shaw

Britannia's Embrace

Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief

Oxford University Press 2015

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in British StudiesNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Human RightsNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network February 16, 2016 Christienna Fryar

Published in October 2015, Caroline Shaw‘s timely new book, Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief (Oxford University Press, 2015),...

Published in October 2015, Caroline Shaw‘s timely new book, Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief (Oxford University Press, 2015), traces the intertwined development of the category of refugee and of the moral commitment of Britons to providing refuge for persecuted foreigners. By confidently working across a range of methods and geopolitical contexts, Shaw shows how the refugee category became “potentially universal in scope,” thanks to the depth of this moral commitment. Yet the attendant challenges of providing relief and resettlement for a potentially endless stream of people fleeing slavery in the US and East Africa, political persecution in continental Europe, and Russian pogroms raised a number of questions, not least where these refugees would live and work. Here, the British Empire provided an important safety valve: resettling refugees abroad made the work of relief seem feasible, despite real problems on the ground. By the later nineteenth century, however, this moral commitment ran up against tightened resources and the increasingly violent radical politics of many who sought relief, leading both to the enshrinement of a “right to refuge” in law and the simultaneous narrowing of who exactly counted as a persecuted foreigner

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