This unit explores the stakes of humanitarian action in situations of armed conflict, with a focus on the role of armed groups. In 2012, a study by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claimed that such groups are ‘frequently identified as the pre-eminent challenge to contemporary humanitarianism.’ Often labelled as terrorists, sometimes welcomed as liberators, subject to varying positions of law, armed groups have a powerful influence on aid. Their interactions with humanitarians have taken different forms over time, with a range of implications for people living amidst conflict. Combining history and development studies, the unit will introduce students to current concerns such as the instrumentalisation of aid, and security and ‘access’ challenges in humanitarian action, and the importance of urban environments, while also questioning the assumption that these are recent phenomena. The course combines conflict and development analysis with historical methods, drawing on examples from across a wide range of geographical areas and periods in contemporary history.