Visualizing Humanitarian Crises and Interventions


Student groups are each assigned a region experiencing a humanitarian crisis for research. They produce a visual timeline representing the processes precipitating and leading up to the crisis and the relief efforts undertaken in response. As a final project, each group produces an infographic representing a theme or a typology it observes across the different crises explored throughout the timeline exercise.


Students learn to: 

(1) identify the wide array of social, political, cultural, religious, and ecological processes that precipitate a humanitarian crisis, and key agencies that offer relief.

(2) differentiate between different types of humanitarian crises and the aid strategies that help address each.

(3) translate knowledge into visual forms. 

(4) apply knowledge of humanitarian crises and relief efforts to produce a shared resource that they may use for their individual term papers. 


Humanitarianism Activism and Civil Society 


This course teaches students to situate social suffering in the context of long-term historical processes. In particular, in the context of humanitarianism, the course aims to attune students to the cultural, environmental, political, and social dynamics that precipitate large-scale humanitarian crises. The timeline assignment asks students to investigate the progression of humanitarian crises in different countries, helping them identify commonalities across cases, which they then represent in their infographic. For example, rather than simply attributing a famine in Sudan to misfortune, students study the role of broader issues, e.g. infrastructure neglect, political and ethinic violence, and environmental processes underlying the famine.

The exercise historicizes social problems and helps students translate academic knowledge about them into visual forms. Any course focusing on the causes and effects of social problems would benefit from adopting this activity, because it deeply sensitizes students to the effects of long-durée processes behind seemingly self-explanatory phenomena.

Procedure- Before Class:

The instructor prepares a detailed handout specifying the various stages of the exercise. In addition, the instructor selects 10 regions for research based on the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) list of areas of highest concern. 

Procedure- During Class:

Students have 15 minutes in class to mingle and self-organize into 4-5 person groups based on interests and work styles. One member of each group draws a note from a hat naming the group's assigned region. Students follow the instructions on the handout provided by the instructor. They collect information from UN reports, NGO sites and reports, and news sources about their region. 

Each student group is charged with constructing a timeline of events and processes based on the collected information. Within each group, each student constructs 10 slides (40-50 slides overall per group), using information from primary sources and a video or an image (e.g., an infographic or an illustrative picture). During each course meeting, one group presents and walks the class through its timeline. Each group meets with the instructor and one of the TFs ten days before their in-class presentation date to ensure a proper division of labor among students and to answer any lingering questions or concerns. An example of the timelines students created in this class is available here.


Toward the end of the course, the students attend a "hackathon" organized by the Bok Center to receive training on visual software, and they construct an infographic representing a theme or a typology they observed across the various presentations. During the last course meeting, they view and discuss these infographics in class. (The technical side of this exercise requires some hand-holding, so it is recommended that instructors conduct short check-ins with students to address timeline technicalities.) In addition, students independently write a policy memo based partly on the information in the timeline.


The students are not required to do any specific readings for this assignment beyond the course's regular assigned readings. However, the instructor familiarizes the students in class with the key resources for their research, such as the main UN agencies that produce relevant reports and the main NGOs that would be good to check.

Submitted by: Shai M. Dromi, Andrew B. Keefe, and Kwan Woo Kim

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