Prof. Dr. Joël Glasman
Professor of history with a focus on African History
Building: GW II, Room: 2.14
- Research interestsHide
I am a historian with a focus on Francophone West- and Central Africa in the twentieth century. I am particularly interested in the history of the state, the history of humanitarianism, global history and science and technology studies (STS).
My first monograph, entitled Les Corps habillés: Genèse des métiers de police au Togo (Karthala 2015) investigates the colonial and postcolonial history of African soldiers and policemen. In 1963, Togo was the first independent country in West Africa to experience a military coup; the authors of the coup then remained in charge of public affairs for several decades. The book argues that the power of men in uniform is rooted deep in the colonial past. It traces the history of uniformed police and soldiers from the Polizeitruppe created by German officers in the 1880s through to the military and police forces created by French colonizers and by the government of Sylvanus Olympio. Soldiers and policemen, the book argues, shaped power relations in Togo for many decades—from everyday life in the city and military barracks to the more abstract political concepts of ethnicity, statehood, and masculinity. Thus, the Togolese military coup and the assassination of Olympio not only set a precedent in African history, but it also exposed a particular tension of colonial and postcolonial domination.
Articles on the history of the police and the army in Togo have been published in the Journal of African History and History in Africa. Articles on the broader topic of police and military history in Africa have been published in Politique Africaine and Sociologus.
I am currently finishing a second monograph, tentatively entitled The Invention of Basic Needs. A History of Humanitarian Knowledge. This book looks at how international humanitarian expertise has shaped a general understanding of the concept of “basic needs” since the 1960s. The argument reverses the conventional narrative of humanitarian aid, which states that needs come first, and humanitarian aid second. Instead, the book shows that humanitarian agencies first had to identify and define particular “needs”, before they could begin the work of assistance; there was no pre-existing, universal list of “basic needs” until humanitarian agencies got involved. The book explores past and present controversies about the conceptualization, classification and quantification of needs. It explores the history of concepts such as Abraham Maslow’s “pyramid of needs” or the World Bank’s definition of “basic needs,” as well as international standards and tools, like the Mid Upper Arm Circumference tape (MUAC) or the “Sphere Project.” Before humanitarian aid went global, I argue, aid agencies spent a lot of energy trying to make human bodies globally commensurable in the first place, to justify the particular application of their resources. The frontline universalism of humanitarian agencies thus gives a prism through which we can look differently at the history of globalization and at the invention of humanitarianism as a global horizon of expectation.
Preliminary results have been published in the Journal of Refugee Studies (2017) and in Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development (2018).
In the last couple of years, my empirical work has increasingly been informed by a critical reading of global history. While analytical notions like “global governmentality” and “globalization” have made their way into disciplines like political sciences, sociology, and anthropology, many historians have expressed their concerns with a globalizing perspective on history.
In a collection of essays edited together with Debora Gerstenberger (Techniken der Globalisierung. Globalgeschichte meets Akteur-Netzwerk Theorie, transcript 2016), as well as in further writings, I explore the possibilities of writing a history of the global scale with the tools of actor-network theories and STS.
List of Publications