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Histories of International Law, History within International Law: Questions of Method

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This paper will discuss the relationship between the uses and forms of history within international law and questions of method in the development of histories of international law. It focuses on the advantages of genealogy as an approach to the history of international law, given its capacity to both explain the way in which the law itself makes use of the past, and intervene in this. Elaborating on the compatibility between genealogy and elements of the contextual approach to history associated with the ‘Cambridge School’, the paper challenges recent suggestions that anachronism is irrelevant, unavoidable, or even a ‘method’ that might be fruitfully embraced in studies of international law’s past directed towards explaining and potentially altering its present. It will be argued that historians of international law should take the dangers of anachronism seriously, particularly if the histories they develop are to operate as a form of critique and basis for change.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER : Dr Kate Purcell is Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney; and currently a Visiting Fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law.

ABOUT THE SEMINAR : The seminar will proceed on the basis that participants have read the paper in advance.

The Legal Histories beyond the State series is an initiative of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, the Centre for History and Economics, and the Cambridge Centre for Political Thought. It brings together historians, political theorists and lawyers who are interested in the social, economic and political dimensions of law in the early modern and modern periods. We focus on the ways in which law and legal institutions order and organize space and people. This encompasses both imperial and international law, and domestic public and private law in its manifold influences on the nature and form of relations across borders. We are interested in legal actors and institutions, both national and supranational; doctrines and concepts, like jurisdiction; and also diverse forms of legal border-crossing, including the migration of people, ideas and objects across time and place. Embracing new trends in legal and historical research, we pursue the exchange of legal ideas in formal and informal contexts, and the creation, appropriation and interpretation of law by non-traditional actors, and in unexpected places.

Some sessions will be devoted to discussion of new, published work in the field, and others to the sharing of works-in-progress, whether draft articles, chapters or book prospectuses, with a core group of scholars from a variety of disciplines.

All are welcome.

This talk is part of the Legal Histories beyond the State series.

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