Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Paul Thomas Chamberlin

Second Advisor

Dr. Lien-Hang Nguyen


This dissertation is situated within the historiography of humanitarianism in U.S. Foreign Relations and seeks to make better sense of when and how Americans choose to act in humanitarian encounters. To fully explore the dynamism of modern humanitarianism, this work traces its meteoric rise between the years 1959 and 1987 and analyzes key ideas that propelled forward the movement. It argues that conceptions and perceptions of children were the central ideas that spurred emotional, financial, and security investment in emergencies abroad from the American public. A variety of actors, including large and small NGOs, government agencies, and the media, grappled with the meanings of childhood as a means to advance forward different understandings of humanitarian efforts. Each of these meanings had a decisive and at moments divisive influence in debates around the U.S. role in its interactions with the world vis-à-vis humanitarianism. By the end of the years under study, these arguments had cemented an ideology in which the American people expected U.S. involvement in crises raging throughout the world. This work explores that journey.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)