Dr Emily Baughan

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

School of History, Philosophy and Digital Humanities

Senior Lecturer in 19th/20th Century British History

+44 114 222 2573

Full contact details

Dr Emily Baughan
School of History, Philosophy and Digital Humanities
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 was a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University in New York and held fellowships at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and the University of Cape Town.

My first book Saving the Children: Humanitarianism, Internationalism and Empire was published in 2021 with the University of California Press. 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. During my research on this project, I worked with Save the Children UK as a research fellow, and organised an international conference for Save the Children’s centenary in 2019 on the importance of histories of aid today. 

My new project, provisionally titled Neoliberalism in the Nursery, analyses the roots of contemporary ‘crises’ in early years care and maternity services in historical perspective. It traces the origins of neoliberalism in the ideas about family life, maternal attachment and child psychology that shaped the social democratic welfare state. Examining the care of young children from cradle to school age – in the hospital, the home, the playgroup, the park, and the nursery school – the project explores how contemporary ‘crises’ of care stem not just from the decline of the welfare state but from the narrow vision of care and of family on which the welfare state itself hinged.  

I am a co-editor of Twentieth Century British History, an Oxford University Press peer-reviewed journal that publishes work on all aspects of modern British history, broadly defined. 

Membership of Professional Bodies
I’m a member of the EU COST funded international research network, Who Cares in Europe, which explores interconnected histories of welfare. I was also an advisor on the Wellcome Trust-funded project to catalogue and make available the archives of Save the Children UK at the Cadbury Library in Birmingham.

Research interests

My research examines ideas about society, the economy and politics through attitudes towards children, care and family life. I see domestic space, milk, toys, nursery schools and playgroups as texts for reading ideas about ideal citizenship, international society, local community and the family. 

My work places the history of modern Britain within wider international and imperial contexts. It examines how ideas about childhood and welfare in Britain shaped international humanitarianism and the emergence of postcolonial welfare states. It also casts light on the ways that  (post)colonialism enabled the creation of the British welfare state and (for elites) mitigated its decline through postimperial migration and the racialised undervaluing of care work. 

Neoliberalism in the Nursery 

Taking its cue from Denise Riley’s classic feminist text, War in the Nursery, my new project examines how shift from social democratic to neoliberal welfare policies has shaped the care of the very young in Britain. Children were the first beneficiaries of an expanding welfare state in the twentieth century; they are the first victims of its decline. Journalists, advocacy organisations, and politicians warn of the current ‘childcare crisis’, ‘maternity care crisis’, ‘children’s mental health crisis’ and rapidly declining birthrate. This study represents the first attempt to trace the origins of these contemporary ‘crises’ not just in the recent context of austerity politics and the covid-19 pandemic, but in the welfare state itself. I propose that the social democratic ‘Fordist’ welfare model, which centred the nuclear family as a unit of support, seeded neoliberal individualism and the decline of collective systems of welfare. I explore changing models of care in the spaces young children inhabited from cradle to school age: the hospital, the home, the playground, the playgroup and the nursery school. Doing so, I cast light on the reinforcing ideologies of the nuclear family and market capitalism.

Past research

Saving the Children, Humanitarianism, Internationalism and Empire, 1914-1970 (University of California Press, 2021) Shortlisted for the RHS Whitbread Prize and the SHCY Grace Abbott Book Prize

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.



  • 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. I am also interested in students who like to examine local histories of Sheffield, especially the lives of care workers after the decline of Sheffield’s major industries.

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 and memberships

Administrative Duties:

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

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 a 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 am organised 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, and History Workshop Online. 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.