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Home Articles posted by Alexandra Kemmerer

Völkerrechtsgeschichten – Histories of International Law

Published on January 6, 2015        Author: 

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This is the first of a series of posts on the history of international law that first appeared in German language on the new international law blog voelkerrechtsblog.com, run by the Association of Young International Lawyers based in German-speaking countries but with an international outlook. The post was translated by Fiona Nelson, University of Potsdam. The German version can be accessed here. Further posts in the series will be published here shortly.

The history of international law comes in plural forms, and with multiple perspectives. International law does not have a history; it has histories. Martti Koskenniemi writes about ‘histories of international law’. His book ‘The Gentle Civilizer of Nations’ played a significant role in international law’s ‘historiographical turn’ around the turn of the millennium. Before this point, all had been rather quiet on the international legal history front. Back in 1952, the history of the discipline had been described as the ‘Cinderella of the doctrine of international law’ by Georg Schwarzenberger. The Cold War marked an ice age for the history and theory of international law. Pragmatists were dominant not only in practice, but also in scholarship. And ‘The Epochs of International Law’ by Wilhelm Grewes, published in German in 1984 and in English translation in 2000, were still firmly rooted in the pre-San Francisco era.

The study of international law has always involved historical and geographical background knowledge. Yet, the real move toward historical reflection only came with the growing awareness of the inadequacies of the ‘New World Order’ that had evolved after 1989. The emergence of new international institutions, the rapid proliferation of international and supranational courts, new human rights regimes and the blossoming of international criminal law were all soon overshadowed by Srebrenica, 9/11, transnational terrorism and the global financial crisis. The ‘fragmentation’ of the international legal order, the collision and competition of various normative orders, prompts questions about concepts and genealogies. Read the rest of this entry…