HCAS People Contact Information

    Fabianinkatu 24 (P.O. Box 4)
    00014 University of Helsinki

    Tel. +358 2 941 21735



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Henning Trüper

PhD (Modern History), European University Institute, Florence

Room 341

Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
P.O. Box 4
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki

Tel: + 358 (0)2941 23457    
Email henning.truper (AT) helsinki.fi


Research Interests

  • History of humanitarianism
  • History and theory of the humanities
  • Intellectual and cultural history

Current Research

Saving Lives from Shipwreck on the Shores of Modern Europe

Henning Trüper's project investigates the history of the organized saving of lives from coastal shipwreck in modern Europe. Since the 1820s, a set of interconnected social movements emerged, in particular in western and northern Europe, which installed nationwide, and in some cases also colonial, systems of lifeboat stations. Within a few decades urban-bourgeois donor and activist milieus persuaded coastal populations to embrace an unconditional imperative to attempt the rescue of the shipwrecked almost regardless of risk. An early case of "humanitarianism," pioneering in its secularity, its focus on the rescue of bare lives, its unparalleled readiness to risk rescuers' lives, and its reliance on lower class volunteers, the lifeboat movement provides privileged access to the historicity of moral norms and humanist universalism in the 19th century. Tied to an older symbolism of the appreciation of impassive spectatorship, a theatrical framing of the "scene" of shipwreck, and a moral economy of exploiting wreckage, the movement radically asserted its modernity while relying on, and only partially negating, a complex set of premodern meanings. The historical semantics of "rescue" were adrift as the modern and the premodern remained entangled. This raises the question of whether the (frequently assumed) unity of "humanitarian sentiment" as an epoch-making constituent of European modernity is problematic, even illusory.