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Call for papers: The Trajectories of International Legal Histories

Thirty years ago, the Leiden Journal of International Law (LJIL) was born, at a time when the writing of histories was hardly a popular endeavor for international legal scholars. In his 1987 article ‘Probleme der Völkerrechtsgeschichte’ (‘The Problems of International Legal History’), Heinhard Steiger argued that only very few, ‘mostly authors of the older generation’, were interested in international legal history. Despite a few notable exceptions, this field of inquiry was still in an embryonic state in the late 1980s.

Much has changed since that time. On the occasion of its 30th anniversary, the LJIL will convene a symposium on The Trajectories of International Legal Histories. The aim is to pay tribute to the remarkable developments within this field, to engage in critical reflection on the directions that it has taken, and to discuss the potential avenues for future research. We anticipate that participants will seize the occasion to speak to ongoing debates, and possibly trigger new ones. The symposium will engage with questions of methodology and perspective. We hope that it will encourage further historical work on international law and reveal the new possible ways of its application.

Some general, basic — and truly intriguing — questions that we are looking to pursue are: Why do international lawyers write and debate international legal histories, and how do their perspectives differ from those of other scholars? How can legal histories be tied to, and yet transcend, specific disciplinary, geographic, socio-cultural and political contexts? Why, in writing histories of international law, have we asked the questions that we have asked? And which questions have we failed to ask? What drives a historical ‘turn’ in particular areas of international law? In what ways do our understandings of the past shape our perceptions of the present and the future, and vice versa? (How) should we write histories of particular fields and of international law as a whole? Which international legal histories should be (re)written, and by whom?

Panel I. International legal history—Linking Past, Present, and Future

The first panel will focus upon some of the general questions described in the programme, in particular: what drives the growing interest in international legal history, and what enables the pursuit of the historical projects in international law? How have experiences of the past shaped both perceptions of the present and future, and the writing of international legal histories? Conversely, how do present locations affect readings of the past and choices of historical subjects and methodology? How can or should such connections be drawn? The panel will further speak to the different stages in international legal history, and reflect on the question of how international legal histories might be written (well).

Panel II. Writing and mediating legal histories—Plural origins and conceptions of international law

The second panel will focus on recent projects of writing histories of international law. Papers in this session will provide insight into questions of methodology and sources, periodization, selection of subjects, and context taken up in specific projects. With different histories being written on the same subjects in parallel and in relation to different fields of international law, the emerging historical narratives may be complementary, speak past each other, or give rise to tensions and clashes. How can we make sense of the different historical perspectives, and how can (or should) they be mediated? This panel could provide an ideal starting point for investigating how (and whether) international legal histories might be both situated in and transcend their particular contexts.

Panel III. Fields of engagement: International legal history and …?

The third panel will have a dual focus. First, it will explore the intersections of international legal history with other fields and overarching conceptual frameworks (e.g. political economy, critical studies, postcolonial theory etc.). Second, it will address the turn to legal history in the specialized subject-matter areas of international law and examine whether and how its ethic and method reshape the disciplinary agenda and discourses. First, this angle might deepen our understanding of international law’s structure, and broaden our awareness of the material relevant to its analysis. Secondly, it might reflect upon the ultimate objectives of historical work in international law, allowing us to think about why it is that we write the histories we write, and what questions we fail to explore. We anticipate that the papers will go beyond exposing certain histories as conquerors’ histories, and turn their attention also to the less obvious blind spots and structural determinants of our historical projects in specific fields and in international law more generally.

Submission of Proposals and Timeline

- Paper proposals should include a description of ca. 500 words and the applicant’s curriculum vitae

- Email to: ljil@law.leidenuniv.nl

- The deadline is 15 March 2017. Selected participants will be notified by 1 April 2017

- Participants must submit draft papers by 1 October

- We plan to publish a selection of the contributions in the LJIL

- Please note that we can contribute to travelling and accommodation expenses, but of a select number of participants only

Save the Date

Leiden Journal of International Law Symposium


‘The Trajectories of International Legal Histories’

20 October 2017, The Hague

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