Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

The Invisible History of the United Nations and the Global South (INVISIHIST)

The main aim of this project is to reveal and unravel the invisible histories of the UN, transcending the dominant Western perspective to recover the historical agency of Global South actors. The research will investigate how the UN has both facilitated and limited their role in shaping global order from 1945-1981.

2020 - 2025
Alanna O'Malley
European Research Council European Research Council

Research description

The majority of member-states to the United Nations identify as members of the Global South. This is a taxonomy that goes beyond a geographical location. It encapsulates how shared agendas led to a sense of solidarity between peoples and states in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The term Global South, rather than Developing World or Third World, is employed in this project to capture both the state, non-state and regional actors who formed part of the movement, not all of whom were located in the Global South. Over time, these actors brought their problems to the UN, in the belief that the organization could provide tangible solutions to global challenges. However, the existing historiography of the UN is largely from the perspective of Western actors, and tends to ignore or downplay the role of Global South actors. These histories enhance the image of the organization as a passive entity and a vehicle for the interests of Western powers such as Britain, France and the United States (US). The liberal world order is presented here as the rules-based system led by the US since 1945 which established an unequal relationship between North and South. This has created the current situation where the UN is broadly misunderstood and the agency of Global South actors has been rendered largely invisible.

Research aim

The main aim of this project is to reveal and unravel the invisible histories of the UN, transcending the dominant Western perspective to recover the historical agency of Global South actors. The research will investigate how the UN has both facilitated and limited their role in shaping global order from 1945-1981. This will be an important contribution to current debates about UN reform and assessments of its performance, safeguarding against further marginalization of these actors.


By Maha Ali

More information soon.

By Yusra Abdullahi

The project contributes to the study of international history through its analysis of Pan-Africanism as a worldview that significantly impacted international order and global politics. The project purports that the UN as a Western-founded organization, despite its commitment to the decolonization of the Global South, both advertently and inadvertently, maintained international liberal order. By analysing the inversions that occur when emancipatory discourses are held in spaces of political asymmetry, the project will bring to the fore the contribution and exercise of (Pan-)African agency across UN bodies, committees, and agendas by highlighting the myriad of ways this agency was both influential at times and suppressed at other times, as a spirited African community formed within the UN realm.

Read more

By Felipe Colla De Amorim

Clashing Latin American projects for economic sovereignty in the post-war global order, investigates Latin America's clashing projects for sovereignty and economic independence in post-World War II global order. In doing so, this research is set to offer a different, more nuanced, perspective on the standard tale of the intellectual, economic, and political movements that emerged from the state-led developmentalist propositions of UN’s CEPAL in the late 1940s which gained traction with UNCTAD’s G77 in the 1960s, and reached its peak when the NIEO was launched in 1973. By focusing on the clashing positions — both through diplomatic channels at the United Nations system and non-state actors beyond them —, this research intends to explore how Latin American actors navigated between three different dimensions (global, regional, and domestic levels) — in which these projects for economic sovereignty were both being defended and attacked.

Read more

Professor Alanna O’Malley

Alanna O’Malley is Chair of United Nations Studies in Peace and Justice, a newly-created position at Leiden University’s Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. This Chair, in honour of the former Dutch Foreign Minister and Mayor of The Hague Jozias Van Aartsen, is shared with The Hague University of Applied Sciences. The Chair leads a new interdisciplinary research group on United Nations Studies to advance academic research and engage public interest in the organization, its past and its possible futures.

Email - a.m.omalley@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Dr. Lydia Walker

Lydia Walker is a historian of 20th century global decolonization and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute for History at Leiden University attached to the ERC Project Challenging the Liberal World Order from Within: The Invisible History of the United Nations and the Global South. Her work focuses on post-1945 political transformation, institutions of international order, the role of non-state actors and indigenous groups in international relations, religiously infused nationalisms and activisms, as well as definitions of sovereignty.  States-in-Waiting, her manuscript, shows how nationalisms that did not achieve statehood during postwar decolonization’s moment of seeming political possibility sought out informal sources of international recognition. Her scholarship has appeared in Past & PresentThe Indian Economic and Social History ReviewThe Washington Post, and elsewhere. She received her PhD in history from Harvard University and her scholarship has been supported by the Social Science Research Council (US), Institute of Historical Research (UK), New York University, and Dartmouth College, among others.

Email - l.walker@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Yusra Abdullahi

Yusra Abdullahi is a Humanitarian Advisor with extensive work experience across sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Kenya. She has used her regional expertise to advise international NGOs, UN agencies and think tanks in the intersecting realms of conflict transformation, gender and migration. In particular, her intimate knowledge of cultural and socio-political contexts in East Africa have allowed her to apply a gendered perspective to the conflict analyses she carried out, and provide concrete recommendations to a myriad of human rights-centred institutions for the acceleration of gender equity in conflict-affected and fragile states based upon her findings.

In addition, Yusra obtained her BA in Politics from SOAS and she also holds an MA in African Studies from Leiden University. Her research interests include African politics, history, cultures, as well as how to dismantle racism in international development. As a PhD Candidate, she is currently conducting research on the role Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe assumed in shaping global order, and how the United Nations both facilitated and hindered the promulgation of the principle of self-determination in these states.

Email - y.s.abdullahi@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Maha Ali

Maha's research interests lie mainly in human rights and development policy; multilateral institutions; international justice and gender; post-colonial legacies in Asia and their impact on international politics.

Maha holds a BA-LLB (Hons) degree in law, policy and humanities from Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. During her time in Pakistan, she worked for Sindh Human Rights Commission, Government of Sindh, as an Advocacy and Communications Consultant. Later, she worked as a Legal Analyst for the Chief Minister Punjab’s Office (Strategic Reforms Unit), Government of Punjab, where she drafted the Punjab Women Protection Authority Act, 2017, and the Punjab Shehr-e-Khamoshan Authority Act, 2017. She also initiated work on a legislation for rehabilitation of senior citizens in Punjab, as well on gender equality reforms and women's rights in Sindh, while providing pro-bono consultancy to Salman Sufi Foundation, Pakistan.

Maha was also responsible for the implementation of the first Violence Against Women Center established in Pakistan in March 2017. She provided legal trainings and monitored cases of violence being reported within the all-female-run facility.

Email - m.ali@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Felipe Colla De Amorim

Felipe Colla De Amorim is a PhD student at the Institute for History, Leiden University. He is a member of the Cold War Studies Research Group (FFLCH-USP/CNPq) and holds an MA in History from the University of São Paulo. He completed his Bachelor's degree in International Relations (PUC-SP, 2014) and Journalism (FCL, 2013). Prior to joining graduate school, Felipe has collaborated with reports for Brazil’s National Truth Commission (2013-14) and co-authored the book ‘À Espera da Verdade – histórias de civis que fizeram a ditadura militar’ (São Paulo: Alameda, 2016). Felipe has previously written on topics such as corporate complicity during the Brazilian military dictatorship, human rights, transitional justice, cold war, and the history of social sciences in Latin America.

Email - f.colla.de.amorim@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Connection with other research

This website uses cookies.  More information.