Dr Emily Baughan

B.A. (Bristol), M.A. (Bristol), Ph.D. (Bristol)

Department of History

Senior Lecturer in 19th/20th Century British History

+44 114 222 2573

Full contact details

Dr Emily Baughan
Department of History
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

I joined the Department of History in September 2016. Before then I was a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Bristol, and a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Bristol in 2014, and during my postgraduate studies held fellowships at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and the University of Cape Town, and was a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University in New York.

My first book ‘Saving the Children: Humanitarianism, Internationalism and Empire, 1915-1970’ will be published in 2020. It analyses the intersection of liberal internationalism and British imperialism, as expressed by a burgeoning humanitarian movement between the two world wars and during the era of decolonization. I’m interested in how the history of humanitarianism can inform present day debates within the humanitarian sector, and explore this as a Humanitarian Affairs Research Fellow at Save the Children UK.

I’m the reviews editor for the journal Twentieth Century British History

I’m a member of the EU COST funded international research network, Who Cares in Europe, which examines interconnected histories of welfare. I’m also an advisor of the Wellcome Funded project to fully catalogue and make available the archives of Save the Children UK, based at the Cadbury Library in Birmingham.

Research interests

My research places the history of modern Britain within wider international and imperial contexts. I focus particularly on the history of aid, development, and internationalism in the twentieth century and on connections between international humanitarianism and the British welfare state. I am also interested in the ways history can inform contemporary debates about aid and development.

Saving the Children, Humanitarianism, Internationalism and the British Empire, 1914-1970 (University of California Press, forthcoming, 2020)

My first book tells the story of the rise of international humanitarianism through the work of the NGO, Save the Children. I argue that British international humanitarianism was born out of the peculiarity of Britain’s imperial role in an emerging international world order. British humanitarianism sought to create an international order favorable to British imperial rule, while seeking to downplay British imperial ambition. After empire’s end, British internationalism became a means of performing Britain’s ongoing global role. Aid was more than just a set of performances designed to showcase Britain’s role in a changing world. It was very direct attempt to shape the world in Britain’s own image. In the book, I look at the practices as well as the principles of international humanitarianism, as it was being enacted in eighteen different countries across a fifty-year time span. While Save the Children claimed to be ‘saving children to save the world’ but the vision of the world it was trying to save was a very specific one, based on international capitalism and colonial rule.

Other People's Children: Adoption, Abduction and the Migration of Children in the British World, 1800-2000.

Spanning two centuries of British-led international and imperial child welfare initiatives, my next major research project Other People’s Children will place within the same frame the removal of indigenous children from their communities in British colonies, the transportation of working class British children to the white dominions, and the growing 'trade' in international adoption in the late twentieth century. It will both interrogate, and move beyond, paradigms of imperial expansion and genocide, revealing the ways in which ideas about pedagogy, psychology and highly racialized discourses of comparative development influenced child welfare policy and practices. Charting a trend away from institutional childrearing towards international adoption, in which children were individually placed into family units, I examine the ways in which evolving notions of race, class and international diplomacy played out in the lives of individual children in both institutional and familial settings across the British world.

On the way to this next major monograph project, I am writing about post-war interracial adoption in Britain and the U.S. and Britain’s ‘global welfare state’ – a study of African and Caribbean nurses and social workers who trained in Britain and returned to work in their countries of origin in the 1950s and 1960s.



  • Baughan E (2020) Saving the Children: Humanitarianism, Internationalism and the British Empire, 1915-1970. Berkeley, C.A.: University of California Press. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles

Book reviews

Research group

Research supervision:
I am interested in supervising projects that relate to the history of popular politics, internationalist activism, NGOs, humanitarianism, development and human rights, feminism, the welfare state and childhood in Britain, the British Empire/Commonwealth and Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Current Students

Primary Supervisor

Find out more about PhD study in History

Teaching activities


  • HST2518 - The Welfare State in Modern Britain, 1900-present
  • HST3156/7 - Humanitarianism, Internationalism and the British Empire, 1900-2000
  • HST3307 - Conflict, Cultures and (De)Colonisation
Professional activities

Administrative roles:

In 2019 I conveneved the Race, Equality and Decolonisation Working Party in the history department at the University of Sheffield.

I am currently Level 1 tutor.

Public engagement

I have been collaborating with Save the Children UK since 2014. I am interested in how the history of humanitarian aid can shape contemporary debates within the sector. At Save the Children, I have been involved in practitioner education programmes (using history to reflect on the present) including the global online learning course, Critical Reflection on Humanitarian Affairs. I have also worked as an advisor on Save the Children Centenary Archives Project, helping the organisation to better understand its own history in advance of its 2019 centenary.

In April 2019, with colleagues from Save the Children and the LSE, I organised the Save the Children Centenary Conference, ‘Humanitarianism, Politics and Children’s Rights’. The conference brought together academics, practitioners and policy makers to use the past to think through present and future challenges facing the aid sector. Read more about the conference here.

In 2018 I acted as an advisor for a major legal inquiry, chaired by Gordon Brown, on the Protection of Children in Conflict. A book outlining the findings (with a chapter on the history of the protection children in war) was also published in 2018.

In 2015 I participated in the Rusty Radiator Awards, which recognise the best work being done in humanitarian communications, and the worst.

In the media:

I have written for Africa is a Country and History & Policy. I tweet at @emily_baughan, about (for example) the history of child removal, the gender in academic publishing, UK Higher Education politics and policy, British overseas aid, why Eglantyne Jebb isn’t the founder of Save the Children, and the trials of archival research. I also tweet on behalf of Twentieth Century British History at @TCBHjournal.