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School of Geography

Call for papers - Responding to the people’s needs: charity, philanthropy and the promotion of social wellbeing from 1800 to the present


International Historical Geographers Conference, London 5-10th July 2015

Tim Brown, Oliver Gibson, Alastair Owens and Stephen Taylor (School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London)

Described as the ‘rebirth of an old trend’ (McGoey 2012), in recent years we have witnessed the re-emergence of large scale private philanthropy. Particularly evident in the field of health care, ‘philanthrocapitalism’ is increasingly being subjected to academic critique as commentators begin to assess the implications that this kind of charitable provision has for welfare policy and practice at a range of geographical scales.  This critical revaluation offers historical geographers an opportunity to reflect on the foundations upon which the ‘new’ forms of charitable giving are built and to consider how far present practice is informed by the past. Here, there is a need to shift our attention, away from a reification of the few very significant givers to explore the contribution of philanthropy more broadly; to ask questions about philanthropy as a framework of ‘beliefs, structures and practices governing the ways in which donations are transferred’ to charitable agencies (Pharoah 2011).  For the past 200 years, private giving and philanthropy have been used to underpin a wide range of activities aimed at supporting those in need. While the scale and sophistication of some contemporary philanthropic organisations is unprecedented, there remain strong parallels between charitable organisations operating in earlier periods and those active today.

The aim of this session is to offer the opportunity for scholars to reflect further on the history and geography of philanthropy from 1800 to the present. We encourage papers that provide insights into particular examples across the timeframe mentioned, and also those that reflect on relations between the past and the present. Papers might focus on noteworthy individuals or particular philanthropic institutions, or on wider (spatial) practices of charitable giving. What cultural, economic, political and social questions arise from studying philanthropy in the past? What has been the changing nature of the relationships between the state and philanthropic organisations in providing for people’s well-being? What has been the impact of philanthropy across different geographical scales and territories? How can taking a more explicitly spatial perspective enhance our understanding of charitable giving, the practices of philanthropic organisations, or the experiences of those in receipt of charity?  In sum, we are encouraging a wide-ranging, geographically informed review of the history of philanthropy and charitable institutions and welcome abstracts that reflect this.

Abstracts for papers should be of no more than 200 words and submitted to Oliver Gibson ( by the 1st September 2014. A decision on the papers to be submitted for consideration by the convenors of the International Historical Geography Conference, 2015 will be made on the 14th September.

For further details about the International Historical Geography Conference, please see:



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