• Offered by Department of International Relations
  • ANU College ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
  • Course subject International Relations
  • Areas of interest International Relations
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Cecilia Jacob
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2025
    See Future Offerings

When large-scale human suffering occurs, does the international community have a responsibility to assist? Who exactly should take action? What principles should guide these actors? What is the role of law and politics in humanitarian action? This course examines international responses to human suffering caused by armed conflict, mass atrocities and complex humanitarian disasters to address these questions. We look at the history and development of law and institutions that shape contemporary international humanitarian action. We consider the changing global security context in which humanitarian action takes place, and examine the actors involved in humanitarian action, from non-state, to state and multilateral actors. The course will provide students with an in-depth understanding of the concepts, politics and practice of humanitarianism, and with skills to analyse current trends and developments in this important area of international politics.  

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Understand the key theoretical concepts and approaches relevant to humanitarianism as a field of study and practice.
  2. A deep knowledge of the historical evolution of the legal frameworks and organizations that shape contemporary humanitarian practice.
  3. Understand current and emerging challenges to humanitarianism, and critically evaluate the ways in which the field is changing.
  4. Ability to apply relevant theoretical and analytical approaches to important humanitarian issues in global politics.
  5. Strong ability to communicate ideas and arguments related to the subject matter effectively through written and verbal expression.
  6. Enhanced research skills in identifying, evaluating, and organizing research materials.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Seminar Presentation (10) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  2. Annotated bibliography (1,500 words) (10) [LO 1,3,4,5,6]
  3. Major research essay (2,500 words) (40) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  4. Final exam (30) [LO 1,2,3,4]
  5. Tutorial participation (10) [LO 1,2,3,5]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


This course comprises some 130 hours of activity over 12 weeks, including some 24 hours of lectures or an equivalent activity and some 12 hours of tutorials or equivalent activity. The course comprises a maximum of 6k words of assessment or the equivalent. Please note this is a general guide, averaged over the semester and the final hours ultimately depend on the individual's ability in reading and writing.

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have successfully completed 48 units of university courses.

Prescribed Texts

Barnett, Michael (2011) The Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Cornell: Cornell University Press)

Elizabeth G. Ferris (2011) The Politics of Protection: The Limits of Humanitarian Action.  (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.)

Preliminary Reading


Acuto, Michele (ed.) (2014) Negotiating Relief: The Politics of Humanitarian Space (London: Hurst &


Anderson, Mary (1999) Do no harm: how aid can support peace or war (Boulder, Colo. : Lynne Rienner Publishers).

Barnett, Michael and Thomas Weiss eds, (2008) Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, and Ethics,

Cornell: Cornell University Press (Cornell University Press: Ithaca).

Barnett, Michael & Thomas Weiss (2011) Humanitarianism Contested: Where Angels Fear to Tread. (London

& New York: Routledge).

Chaulia, Sreeram (2011) International Organizations and Civilian Protection: Power, Ideas and Humanitarian Aid in Conflict Zones (London and New York: I.B. Taurus)

de Waal, Alex(1997) Famine crimes: politics and the disaster relief industry in Africa (http://library.anu.edu.au/

record=b2003089) (James Currey and IAI London).

Fassin, Didier (2012) Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. (Berkely: University of California Press)

Hoffman, P.J. and T.G.Weiss, eds, (2006) Sword and salve (Rowman and Little).

Jacob, Cecilia and Cook, Alistair D.B. (eds) (2016) Civilian Protection in the Twenty-first Century: Governance and Responsibility in a Fragmented World. (Oxford University Press)

OCHA, (2004) The Humanitarian Decade, Vol. 2, (New York, UN OCHA).

Rieff, David (2002) A bed for the night: humanitarianism in crisis (http://library.anu.edu.au/record=b2153921)

(London: Vintage).

Shapcott, Richard (2010) International ethics: a critical introduction (Cambridge: Polity)

Terry, Fiona (2002) The paradox of humanitarian action: condemned to repeat? (Cornell University Press:

Ithaca and London).

Walker, Peter and Daniel Maxwell (2009) Shaping the Humanitarian World (London and New York:


Weiss, Thomas G. (2012) The Humanitarian Business. (Cambridge; Malden, Ma: Polity).

Weiss, Thomas G. (2012) Humanitarian Intervention: War and Conflict in the Modern World (Cambridge; Malden, Ma: Polity).

Assumed Knowledge

INTR1021 and INTR1022 are recommended but not compulsory for students taking this course as an advanced elective.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
3415 17 Feb 2025 24 Feb 2025 31 Mar 2025 23 May 2025 In Person N/A

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