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Histories of International Law (LAWS90109)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5Not available in 2018

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Year of offerNot available in 2018
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codeLAWS90109
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

This subject offers a history of the role of legal thought in international politics from the late middle ages (1300) to the present. It examines the development of legal thought in its context, as part of religious, economic and ideological projects that have often coincided with efforts to strengthen the power of European nations vis-à-vis each other and in the colonies, and with resistance to those efforts. Particular attention is given to describing the development of legal thought as a whole, combining aspects of public law sovereignty with those of private law and the right to property. What will emerge is a description of law as a vocabulary that has been used (and continues to be used) to seize, exercise and challenge international power in its many manifestations. The chronology will extend from debates over the power of the church vs. state in the late middle ages, the justification of empire and free trade from the 16 th and early 17 th centuries, the consolidation of “European Public Law” in the 18 th century, and the various transformations undergone by “modern” international law in its liberal and neoliberal forms from the late-19 th to the late-20 th centuries.

Principal topics include:

  • International law and historical method;
  • History of the notion of dominium as both “sovereignty” and “property”;
  • Histories of empire, colonialism and international law;
  • History of international law and raison d’état;
  • The construction of ius naturae et gentium as an academic discipline (Germany);
  • International law and the expansion of Britain;
  • The rise of “modern” international law (19 th century);
  • Debates over principles of sovereign equality and non-intervention in the era of decolonisation;
  • The complexities of “professional international law” (20 th century); and
  • International law and the history of economic liberalisation.

Intended learning outcomes

A candidate who has successfully completed the course should be able to

  • Think about international law historically;
  • Analyse the relations between public international law and private (especially property) law;
  • Understand international law’s relationship to diplomacy and the practices of raison d’état;
  • Understand the relationship between the development of European international law and European colonization;
  • Reflect critically upon what it meant for international law to become a ‘profession’;
  • Link 20 th century globalization to the development of legal doctrines and institutions; and
  • Think about law as an intellectual discipline (and not merely a “craft”).

Last updated: 12 September 2019