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This subject examines the histories of international law. It will investigate, firstly, the reason for the turn to understanding the history of international law, and, secondly, the methodological approaches available for such a project (eg interdisciplinary insights; feminist critiques of international legal study; the sense of a ‘visual culture’ of international law and legal practice). The notion of ‘censorship’ will feature prominently in the subject, either in its pure form (eg Woodrow Wilson’s "open treaties" idea) or by virtue of its indirect meaning and impact (eg how technical expertise and the notion of "crisis" have obscured the role of history in international law).
Principal topics include:
- An assessment of historical method in international law and its significance
- The approaches to history taken by international lawyers and the impact of forms of censorship on them
- The development of the concept of freedom of the oceans in international law and its connections to imperial trade and commerce
- The function of religion in the history of international law; for example, the role of the papacy
- International legal responses to slavery and the slave trade; for example, in the United States Supreme Court
- The history of the League of Nations
- Depictions of international legal rights, such as the right to self-determination
- The rise of interdisciplinary approaches to international law, from history and literature to anthropology and psychology
- The gendered nature of histories of international law.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will have:
- An advanced understanding of the construction of histories of international law, and the significance of imperialism in the design and operation of the law and its institutions
- An ability to identify and analyse forms of censorship in historical thinking in international law
- A sophisticated capacity to analyse the central role of the sovereign state in international legal discourse
- The knowledge and skills to identify, assess and deploy critical analysis in international law
- An advanced capacity to identify the value and limitations of using history to deal with current international legal problems
- The knowledge and analytic skills to account for evolutions in the concept of universality in international law
- An appreciation of the ways that race and gender have shaped international legal thinking
- A capacity to reflect on the value of interdisciplinary approaches to international law
- The cognitive and technical skills to examine, research and analyse the role of history in current international legal debates.
Last updated: 10 November 2023