In Sharing the Burden: The Armenian Question, Humanitarian Intervention, and Anglo-American Visions of Global Order (Oxford University Press, 2019), Charlie Laderman exposes the way that imperial ambitions suffused the ideas and practices of turn-of-century humanitarian intervention. Beginning his story in the late 19th century Ottoman Empire, Dr. Laderman demonstrates how the successive waves of violence perpetrated against Armenian Christians provoked new ways of thinking about imperial governance, the practice of intervening on humanitarian grounds, and notions of “civilization” itself.
Laderman’s book opens in the mid-19th century Ottoman Empire, when both Eastern and Western European states stood poised to further destabilize the Ottoman government with repeated interventions and invasions into its territory, ostensibly on behalf of the Ottoman Empire’s non-Muslim subjects. The Ottoman administration’s precarity, coupled with intensifying religious and ethnic tensions along the Empire’s far-flung borders, created conditions that were ripe for violence and abuse. By the 1890s, this violence became directed squarely at the Armenian Christian minority in the eastern province of Anatolia. The repeated waves of violence committed against the Armenian Ottomans after 1894 became what both Laderman and his historical actors call the “Armenian Question”—a problem that British and U.S. officials, American missionaries, and the broader American public became increasingly desperate to “solve.”
Laderman structures his book around the kinds of “solutions” that American and British politicians, missionaries, and journalists proffered in response to escalating violence toward Armenians. In Laderman’s telling, the Armenian massacres became a lens through which British and American officials came to interpret the practices of “enlightened” versus “barbaric” imperial rule—and it made them puzzle whether or how a prospective Anglo-American alliance might secure a more “stable” and humanitarian global order. In recovering this history, Dr. Laderman challenges the notion that humanitarian intervention originated as a form of international politics only in the latter half of the 20th century. He ultimately demonstrates just how crucial the Armenian Genocide was in early 20th-century conceptions and praxes of imperial internationalism—and what this meant for the Anglo-American relationship and global governance more broadly after the First World War.
Charlie Laderman is a Lecturer in International History at the War Studies Department of King’s College, London. He was previously a Fox International Fellow and Smith Richardson Fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University, and a Harrington Faculty Fellow at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas, Austin.
Sarah Nelson is a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University’s department of history, and a joint-PhD candidate in Comparative Media Analysis and Practice (CMAP). Her dissertation addresses the history of international telecommunications governance, tracing the long history of attempts.
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