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21 October 2021  


Maria Cullen

Maria Cullen

Maria Cullen



Maria Cullen, a graduate of University College Dublin, was awarded an NUI Travelling Studentship in History in 2019.

““I completed my undergraduate degree in History and French at Trinity College Dublin. I always had a strong interest in international politics, humanitarian aid and the NGO sector. After my BA, I chose to explore these issues further in an MA in International Relations at University College Dublin. As part of my MA studies, I completed an internship with a small NGO in Kigali, Rwanda, which gave me a fascinating professional insight into the interconnected relationships between local civil society organisations and international funding bodies.

Having completed my MA, I was drawn to the merits of analysing the history of humanitarian NGOs as simultaneously global and national political actors. In 2018, I began my PhD at NUI Galway under the supervision of Dr. Kevin O’Sullivan. My research analyses the influence of national political culture on the humanitarian action of the NGOs Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the 1980s. To do this, I look comparatively at the interventions of Oxfam and MSF in three humanitarian crises, namely the post-Khmer Rouge Cambodian crisis, the Ethiopian famine, and the El Salvador civil war. Particular attention is paid to the evolution of human rights as a cornerstone of humanitarian action, along with the politically determined nature of how human rights were operationalised in a Cold War context.


"As an NUI Award holder, I have been able to
fund various research trips abroad to archives
in Paris, Oxford and London. Covid-19 has put a stop to my travelling for now but I am continuing my research remotely, analysing my archival research
and conducting oral history interviews with
humanitarian practitioners over the phone."

Among many conferences and seminars I have attended, I greatly enjoyed taking part in the Global Humanitarian Research Academy, which took place between Mainz and Geneva in the summer of 2019. This experience allowed me to share ideas and learn from both established scholars and fellow early career researchers also working on humanitarian history. I am looking forward to sharing my research at more conferences soon, although they may be virtual for the next while!

As an NUI Award holder, I have been able to fund various research trips abroad to archives in Paris, Oxford and London. Covid-19 has put a stop to my travelling for now but I am continuing my research remotely, analysing my archival research and conducting oral history interviews with humanitarian practitioners over the phone.

I would highly recommend applying for an NUI Award. I have only held my award for a year but I have already felt the benefits that it brings in terms of supporting international research and making lasting connections with like-minded researchers across Ireland.”