This introduction describes the rapidly expanding history of non-state humanitarianism in terms of three themes. First, it argues that we should think about humanitarianism less in terms of ruptures or breaks, and focus more on the moments of acceleration and the continuities that shaped that narrative: how the relationships among local, national and international discourses were played out in the shift between imperial and post-colonial worlds, in the dialogue between religious and secular traditions, and in the transformative processes of decolonization, de-regulation and globalization. Second, we suggest the need to re-think the geography of non-state humanitarianism. Drawing attention to the transnational contexts and traditions in which ideas of humanitarianism have been articulated not only adds to our understanding of transnational action and the strength of global civil society beyond the West, we argue, it allows us to better appreciate the myriad languages and practices of humanitarianism employed in a global context. Finally, this introduction also re-visits the question of motivation. By looking beyond the state, we argue, we can better understand the variety of motives that shaped the act of giving: from compassion to capturing markets, the search for efficiency, and the construction of local, national and international identities.