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Conquering Peace? How Can Three Centuries of Europe’s Past Help its Future?

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It should be obvious by now that neither peace in Europe nor the European Union’s mandate to unify the Old Continent are a given. Yet no political entity since the Roman Empire has survived in Europe on such a large scale and for so long as the EU. In view of the impending prospect of Brexit, now is a good time to reconsider the overarching goal that sustained the European unification process so far and which might make or break it in the future: peace. Indeed, where did the notion come from that only a free-willed unification of the continent could bring peace? This paper traces a genealogy of concerted attempts at peaceful pacification on the European continent, from the Peace of Utrecht (1713) to the League of Nations, and beyond, to the European Communities. Spanning three centuries, it will survey a number of deep-rooted reasons why, in the face of uncertainties, adversity and failures, European states have kept trying to achieve a peaceful unification of the continent, and why this pursuit of peace may likely be a never-ending process.

Stella Ghervas is Professor of Russian History at Newcastle University and an Associate of the Department of History at Harvard University. Her main interests are in the intellectual and international history of modern Europe, with special reference to the history of peace and peace-making, and in Russia’s intellectual and maritime history. Among her publications are Réinventer la Tradtion: Alexandre Stourdza et l’Europe de la Sainte-Alliance (2008), Lieux d’Europe: Mythes et limites (co-ed., 2008), A Cultural History of Peace in the Age of Enlightenment 1648-1815 (co-ed., 2019), and Conquering Peace: From the Enlightenment to the European Union (2020). She is currently working on a new book titled Calming the Waters? A New History of the Black Sea 1774-1920s, and on an anthology of essential texts on peace from the Antiquity to the present day.

This talk is part of the Centre for Gepolitics and Grand Strategy series.

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