Getting to know the IHP Faculty: Davide Rodogno

New school year, more interviews! We begin with Davide Rodogno, Professeur boursier, who is a co-director of the Doctoral and Faculty Seminar in International History and Politics this year (and who will team-teach a course on the League of Nations and the United Nations: A Parallel History in the spring).

Jaci Eisenberg: I’m curious about how you became interested in your specific areas of research. Could you tell us about what you did your graduate studies on, and how that’s evolved into what you’re working on today.

Davide Rodogno: I was a Ph.D. student here at the Graduate Institute. Our director, Philippe Burrin, was my supervisor and I also was a teaching assistant for Professor Bruno Arcidiacono and Matthew Leitner. I consider the three of them as my mentors. The topic of my dissertation was on Fascist Italy military occupations in Europe during the Second World War.

The topic of my Ph.D. actually began as a seminar paper in late 1994. Bruno Arcidiacono asked me whether I was interested in working on Fascist policy towards the Jews of the occupied territories in Europe. The topic appealed to me a lot, since it contributed to the understanding of the persistence of a myth alive still today in Italy: Italiani brava gente, the Italians were good people and benevolent occupiers. In 1995, I came to the conclusion that if one really wanted to understand Fascist policies towards the Jews in Europe it was necessary to understand the broader context of the military occupation or annexations. The seminar paper became a mémoire and, eventually, a PhD dissertation.

In 2000, while finishing my thesis, I became interested in the topic of my second book, (a history of humanitarian interventions during the nineteenth century, which should be published by the end of 2010). I should mention that the 1990s was a time when at the old HEI there was a lively debate on humanitarian interventions. As a student I had the privilege to attend seminars of international law professors such as George Abi-Saab, Theodor Meron, and Luigi Condorelli. While preparing my thesis defense, I dealt with questions concerning the history of genocide and I came across Vahakn Dadrian’s book on the Armenian genocide. Dadrian mentioned humanitarian interventions during the 19th century, without giving any definition of this international practice. So, I started doing some historiographical research and realized that, with the exception of some international law articles, nothing had been written on the history of humanitarian interventions.

Shortly after my doctoral thesis defense I applied for a bourse chercheur avancé of the Fonds National Suisse. My research project was about armed intervention against massacre in the Ottoman Empire throughout the nineteenth century. In the meantime, I was already working for the World Bank in Lithuania and try to keep as many professional doors open for my future because I wasn’t so sure that I would get the Post-Doc fellowship.

So, this is how things developed in my case. Curious maybe, but that’s the way it is.

Jaci Eisenberg: What were you doing at the World Bank exactly?

Davide Rodogno: The World Bank had to prepare a Country Economic Memorandum, a photograph of Lithuania, one of the post-communist transition countries, as they were called back in the 1990s. I was one of the members of a team of 10 experts, and the only non-economist of the group. I had to prepare a report on the business environment. It was a very formative experience because I could interview the ex-President of Lithuania, the representatives of the patronat, of the workers, of small-and-medium size enterprises, as well as NGOs monitoring corruption in the country.

At the very same time I was applying for the YPP (the Young Professional Programme of the World Bank) the FNS awarded me the post-doctoral fellowship. I decided that I would keep working in academia. I moved to London and to Paris. From there I moved to St. Andrews, where I was appointed Academic Fellow in 2005.

Now, to go back to your first question, while I was working on the history of humanitarian interventions throughout the 19th century, I realized that a number of public opinion movements, such as the Pro-Armenian, Pro-Macedonian, the Congo Reform Association had a truly transnational dimension. I started developing an interest in transnational history, and wanted to combine this new research interest with my previous interest in the history of humanitarianism and humanitarian interventions. In 2007, I submitted a new proposal to the Fonds national, this time for a position of Professeur boursier, on the history of international humanitarian associations.

I started this 4 years’ project when I came in Geneva, in 2008. It is an entirely new experience for me. For the first time a lead a small research group and collaborate with two IHP Ph.D. students: Shaloma Gauthier and Francesca Piana. The first thing that we did was to narrow down the topic. We have decided to focus on humanitarian relief operations in the aftermath of conflicts, whether internal or international during the 1920s and 1930s. Our units of analysis are European and Northern-American non-state humanitarian actors, such as the ICRC, the League of Red Cross Societies, Save The Children, l’Union Internationale de Secours aux Enfants or the American Relief Administration. The project is about a given number of situations, post-war situations, and a given number of configurations. Geographically, the project covers an area that goes from Poland, down to Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans, and then Turkey and Caucasus, including the relief for Armenians, from Anatolia to Asia Minor. We try to understand who were the actors doing what, and how humanitarian cooperation took place.

As you see, my interest in the history of Ottoman Armenians is still alive today. The reason why today I keep working on the international relief on behalf of Armenian populations, especially women and children in the 1920s, is because for me this is in a way the third chapter of a story that begins with the Armenian massacres of the 1890s, when no humanitarian intervention ever took place, and tragically continued during the War with genocide.

Jaci Eisenberg: Have you started any other projects? In previous conversations you’ve mentioned the League of Nations Century Project.

Davide Rodogno: This is a very long-term project that involves the colleagues of this academic unit, and possibly of other academic units, who have an interest in the history of international organizations. On the one hand, we wish to cooperate with the United Nations in the process of digitization of the documents. Currently, we are exploring the possibility of focusing on the Fonds Nansen, which is a corpus of documents that stands alone. Moreover, some of these documents have already been microfilmed, so the digitization process should be smooth and easy. On the other hand, we are developing a scientific project that will go along with the digitization. The history of Nansen is inextricably linked to the history of refugees, and, as you know, HEID hosts a refugee center, directed by Jussi Hanhimäki.

Jaci Eisenberg: You’ve already mentioned quite a lot of future projects, but do you have any others that you’d like to talk about?

Davide Rodogno: I would like to teach a seminar on the history of NGOs (maybe co-teaching it with Professor Pierre-Yves Saunier of Lyon). Pierre-Yves and I have already been discussing a number of things that we’d like to deal with in our seminar. We would like to encourage students to work in the archives of NGOs, to study the history and politics of NGOs as well as the history of NGOs governance a very topical question. As you know, a number of NGOs have their headquarters in Geneva or in Switzerland, and I wish our students to exploit this gold mine of unexplored archives in the future.

Bernhard Struck (University of St Andrews), Jakob Vogel (University of Cologne) and myself organized a two-round conference on the history of transnational networks of experts and organizations during the long nineteenth century. We are currently preparing a synopsis, and hoping to find an editor willing to publish this volume.

Finally, let me mention the Groupe d’Histoire des Organisations Internationales (History of International Organization Network). Last year, together with Sandrine Kott, from the University of Geneva, and Daniel Palmieri, from the ICRC, we funded this group. Our initial aim was to provide advanced students, independent scholars, university professors, as well as archivists with a forum and a locus where they could meet and exchange their views on the history of international organizations. We began by organizing a number of meetings with the archivists of the ICRC, the United Nations, the ILO. This year we’ve got an award from UNO Academia to organize a seminar on the history of international organizations. On October 27, we had a brilliant Oxford historian, Patricia Clavin, come to Geneva and present a fascinating paper on the League of Nations during the Second World War. By the beginning of 2010, we plan “to go virtual” and to have a website allowing scholars and students from all over the world to join the network. So, students and scholars coming to Geneva – where many archives of international organizations are located – will get to know the community of students and scholars sharing their same interests.

Jaci Eisenberg: Do you have any advice for the students of the History and Politics section?

Davide Rodogno: Just follow your passion. Especially for Ph.D. students, this is extremely important, because they have to live with their topic for 4 years. They should not follow any ephemeral fashions or short-term interests and take all the time necessary to understand what really their passionate about.

Professor Davide Rodogno, Office Hours on Wednesdays from 16h to 18h, Voie Creuse 334.

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