International Health Organizations (IHOs): The history for the future network


Following the award of a Wellcome Trust Seed Award, the organisers of the 'International Health Organizations (IHOs): The history for the future network' will be convening a fourth meeting at Shanghai University on 26-28 May 2017. 

The title of this year's conference is "How to Change the World".

Large parts of international policies during the last two hundred years – at least – have been influenced by the idea of “development.” Though the term became an important part of the international discourse only after 1945, the concept is clearly older, rooted in the idea that socio-economic conditions would and should improve and that specific policies should be employed to bring about such improvements. Beyond this core, “development” has been a highly contested concept, whose constructed character has repeatedly been pointed out. 

Critics such as Arturo Escobar or Gilbert Rist have denounced it as essentially an imperialist policy by high-income countries. They point to international structures created in the name of “development” which have often reflected power inequalities and served the interests of those that put them in place. They also call attention to the continuing enormous economic inequalities between people in different parts of the world despite - or because of? - decades of “development” efforts allegedly designed to mitigate such disparity. Meanwhile, other scholars like Richard Jolly and Charles Kenny identify perceived successes of “development,” measured in social indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality, gender equality or literacy, which contradict a simplistic notion of continued failure. 

Despite its lack of precision, “development” continues to play an important role in public rhetoric. International organization continue to employ categories such as “developed” or “least developed” countries, and for many people, particularly in low-income countries, “development” remains a powerful and seemingly self-evident goal. Clearly, for all its vagueness, the term has been considered useful in communication both about international policies and about desired or actual changes in a given society. In a larger sense, the idea of some form of socio-economic improvement as a goal of public or private actions seems to have resonated with societies in many parts of the world, though not necessarily with similar meanings or goals. 

This conference seeks to explore various concepts and practices of “development” between roughly the eighteenth and the twenty-first centuries from a world history perspective, looking at the ways in which they entangled histories of different times and different places.

The programme for the conference can be downloaded here 2017 IHO Conference       

Objectives of the network
  1. To connect those researching all aspects of the history of IHOs
  2. To stimulate new work in the field
  3. To grow relationships between historians and those involved in working in or with today’s IHOs in order to encourage the exchange of ideas and perspectives

Previous meetings

Details of the three previous meetings can be found here: