This PhD studentship opportunity is developed in collaboration with Amnesty International and asks, what role did photography play in the emergence of Amnesty International in the 1960s, and what lessons can be drawn from this history for human rights activism today? The project will examine important photographic histories around Amnesty’s early campaigning to reflect on past and current attitudes and priorities regarding news coverage of human rights violations.
Amnesty, Archives, Activism: Photojournalism and the Development of Human Rights Media Campaigns in Britain since the 1960s
The interplay of international geopolitical issues and news media strategies has long been central to the history of NGOs and campaign groups, from the International Committee of the Red Cross after 1918 to #BlackLivesMatter activism today. Amnesty International was established in 1961 when Peter Beneson was prompted to action having seen newspaper coverage of the imprisonment of Portuguese students for drinking a toast to liberty during the Salazar dictatorship. The famous ‘Forgotten Prisoners’ article in The Observer (28 May 1961) included photographs of 6 individuals. The importance of photography is thus threaded through all aspects of human rights activism, from research and behind-the-scenes pressure, to public media campaigns. While photography has long been central to campaigning, its complex history of production and circulation, its ways of constructing meaning, and its value to activism, are insufficiently examined by academic researchers and human rights activists. This interdisciplinary research project addresses two broad research questions: (1) What role did photography play in the emergence of Amnesty International in the 1960s? (2) What lessons can be drawn from this history for human rights activism today?
The project has been developed with Amnesty International’s Photographic Officer, Head of Audio Visual, and Head of Archives. It will be supervised in partnership with the School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC) at Cardiff University. Archival research will focus on Amnesty’s extensive collection of photographic prints and negatives, its publications library and JOMEC’s historic newspapers and magazine holdings. The project will recover important photographic histories around Amnesty’s early campaigning to reflect on past and current attitudes and priorities regarding news coverage of human rights violations.
Amnesty will support career development opportunities enhancing the student’s expertise in archival methods and awareness of the socio-political context in which NGOs operate. The studentship also provides knowledge exchange opportunities between JOMEC and Amnesty with potential to rethink how historical and modern photographic material is commissioned, preserved and mobilised through Amnesty’s partnerships with journalists when challenging anti-democratic practices curtailing freedom of expression.
This collaboration will involve joint decisions about research methods, conceptual approaches and project priorities. A focus on photographic material and news coverage necessitates use of methods across cultural, visual and journalism studies. Analysing organisational documents, photographic collections and original publications, historical and archival research will be vital. Understanding imagery’s role in public discourse also demands critical interpretative frames including discourse and visual analyses. These may be supplemented by interviews with key actors and/or focus groups to map the efficacy of campaign strategies. Ultimately, the combination of interdisciplinary research methods will be determined in partnership between the student, JOMEC and Amnesty in response to the agreed focus of the project.
The project is funded through the ‘Journalism & Democracy’ pathway of the ESRC Wales Doctoral Partnership. Addressing the importance of photography to human rights campaigning, this project fits the remit of JOMEC’s Tom Hopkinson Centre for Media History and the School’s commitment to open, informed, high-quality journalism.
Further details about the funding, eligibility and application process can be found here:
The deadline for applications is Wednesday 3 February 2021.
Picture: Amnesty International Archives | 1854 Photography – Creator: Habibul Haque/drik