Heide Fehrenbach

Current Research

My current research concerns the visual history of humanitarian advocacy.  I am at work on a book project that explores the history of humanitarianism through the lens of the camera and its symbolic focus on the child. It suggests that while depictions of children-in-need may appear static and predictable, for over a century they have been deployed in various ways for a surprising array of political agendas.

My previous publications have probed the social and cultural effects of World War II, postwar processes of democratization and "Americanization," and transitions in racial and gender ideologies in post-fascist Germany.  More recently, I have published on the social and cultural history of humanitarianism, including international assistance to refugee women and children during the world wars, the emergence of the legal innovation of international adoption, and the role of photography in humanitarian advocacy since the late 19th century.

My research has been supported by fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Academy in Berlin, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauchdienst, and the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. Prior to coming to NIU, I held tenured positions at Emory University (1998-2001) and Colgate University (1990-1998).

Major Publications


Articles/Book Chapters

  • "Children and Other Civilians: Photography and the Politics of Humanitarian Image-Making." Humanitarian Photography: A History, H. Fehrenbach and D. Rodogno, 165-99. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 
  • "From Aid to Intimacy: The Humanitarian Origins and Media Culture of International Adoption." The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century, ed. Johannes Paulmann.  London: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • (With Davide Rodogno), "‘A Horrific Photo of a Drowned Syrian Child’: Humanitarian Photography and NGO Media Strategies in Historical Perspective." International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 97, no. 900, Special issue on "The Evolution of Warfare" (2016): 1121-1155.
  • "Children as Casework: The Problem of Migrating and Refugee Children in the Era of World War." Handbook on Migration and Childhood, Jacqueline Bhabha, Daniel Senovilla Hernandez, and Jyothi Kanics. Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2018.
  • "The Berlin International Film Festival: Between Cold War Politics and Postwar Reorientation" in Studies in European Cinema, Vol. 17, no. 2, special issue on Film Festivals, 81-96. 

Teaching Interests

Modern European history; social and cultural history of World Wars; modern Germany; race and ethnicity in transnational perspective; human rights and humanitarianism; film and photography; history of children and childhood.

Courses Taught

  • HIST 112 Western Civilization since 1815
  • HIST 313 Modern Germany 1870-1990
  • HIST 328 Europe, 1945 – Present
  • HIST 385 History of Childhood
  • HIST 386 History of Human Rights
  • HIST 390 Film and History
  • HIST 395 Historical Methods 
  • HIST 418 Modern European Intellectual and Cultural History
  • HIST 425 World War II: Film, History, and Public Memory in International Perspective
  • HIST 429 Nazi Germany 
  • HIST 495 Senior Thesis Seminar for History Majors
  • HIST 610-90/710-90 Humanitarianism and Human Rights (Graduate Reading and Research Seminars)
  • HIST 610-90/710-90 Photography in History (Graduate Reading and Research Seminars)


Heide Fehrenbach

Heide Fehrenbach
Board of Trustees Professor and Distinguished Research Professor
Zulauf 601

Modern Germany

Ph.D., Rutgers University, 1990

Office Hours

2-3 p.m. and by appointment, online.