History of International Law

Introduction

The history of international law examines the evolution and development of public international law in both state practice and conceptual understanding. Modern international law developed out of Renaissance Europe and is strongly entwined with the development of western political organisation at that time. The development of European notions of sovereignty and nation states would necessitate the development of methods for interstate relations and standards of behaviour, and these would lay the foundations of what would become international law. While the origins of the modern system of international law can be traced back 400 years, the development of the concepts and practises that would underpin that system can be traced back to ancient historical politics and relationships thousands of years old. Important concepts are derived from the practice between Greek city-states and the Roman law concept of ius gentium, which regulated contacts between Roman citizens and non-Roman people. These principles were not universal however. In East Asia, political theory was based not on the equality of states, but rather the cosmological supremacy of the sovereign, that is the emperor of China.

The Peace Palace Library has an impressive old and rare books collection of 10.000 titles printed before 1850. Since 1913 the Library has acquired a historical legal collection representing the various periods of thinking about international law, dominated by the Spanish, French or English schools. Writers from the 16th century: Jean Bodin, Ayala, Vitoria, the 17th century: Hugo Grotius, Gentili, Pufendorf, Zouche, and 18th century: Bynkershoek, Wolff, von Martens, Vattel, and 19th century Bluntschli, to name only a few. In total about 2400 authors represent the origins of international law. Modern authors on the history of international refer to these sources for their research.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research in the field of the History of International Law. It provides the basic materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's systematic classification → History of international law and subject heading (keyword) History of International Law are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

Bibliography

Reference works

Recent Books

Leading articles

Documents

Periodicals, serial publications

Bibliographies

Systematic classification → History of international law

New titles

As we are right in the middle of moving to a new library system, it is not yet possible to automatically collect new titles for this Research Guide.

Librarian's choice

  • Gozzi, G., Rights and Civilizations: A History and Philosophy of International Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019. Showcase item

    Rights and Civilizations, translated from the Italian original, traces a history of international law to illustrate the origins of the Western colonial project and its attempts to civilize the non-European world. The book, ranging from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first, explains how the West sought to justify its own colonial conquests through an ideology that revolved around the idea of its own assumed superiority, variously attributed to Christian peoples (in the early modern age), Western 'civil' peoples (in the nineteenth century), and 'developed' peoples (at the beginning of the twentieth century), and now to democratic Western peoples. In outlining this history and discourse, the book shows that, while the Western conception may style itself as universal, it is in fact relative. This comes out by bringing the Western civilization into comparison with others, mainly the Islamic one, suggesting the need for an 'intercivilizational' approach to international law.

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  • De La Rasilla del Moral, I., In the Shadow of Vitoria: A History of International Law in Spain, Leiden, Brill/Nijhoff, 2018.

    In the Shadow of Vitoria: A History of International Law in Spain (1770-1953) offers the first comprehensive treatment of the intellectual evolution of international law in Spain from the late 18th century to the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral recounts the history of the two ‘renaissances’ of Francisco de Vitoria and the Spanish Classics of International Law and contextualizes the ideological glorification of the Salamanca School by Franco’s international lawyers. Historical excursuses on the intellectual evolution of international law in the US and the UK complement the neglected history of international law in Spain from the first empire in history on which the sun never set to a diminished and fascistized national-Catholicist state.

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  • Alexandrowicz, C.H.; D. Armitage and J. Pitts (eds.), The Law of Nations in Global History, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017.

    In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the need to write a global history of law of nations that disengages from parochial national and regional histories. It is hoped that these developments will bring centre-stage the work of Charles Henry Alexandrowicz (1902–75), a scholar who was among the first to conceptualize the history of international law as that of intersecting histories of different regions of the world. Alexandrowicz was aware that, while the idea of writing a global history of law of nations is liberating, there is no guarantee that it will not become the handmaiden of contemporary and future imperial projects. What were needed were critical global histories that provincialize established Eurocentric historiographies and read them alongside other regional histories. This book aims to make Alexandrowicz’s writings more widely available and read. The Introduction to this book sums up the context, issues, problems, and questions that engaged Alexandrowicz, as well as some of his central theses. His writings are a gold mine waiting to be explored. Alexandrowicz contributed to the effort of promoting the idea of international rule of law by rejecting a Eurocentric history and theory of international law.

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Database

Blogs

  • The Capture of the Santa Catarina (1603)

    By 1602, the newly formed Dutch East India Company (VOC) was threatening Portugal’s monopoly over the Asian spice trade. In response, the Portuguese government designed an extensive campaign to drive out the Dutch from the East Indies. Outraged by the atrocities the Portuguese inflicted on the Dutch and their allies, Admiral Van Heemskerck – sailing in the Strait of Singapore – prepared to retaliate against the Portuguese. After spending months of looking for a Portuguese ship to capture, they at last found one on that morning of February 25, 1603. And not just any ship, but the treasure ship Santa Catarina. The ship and its cargo ended up as booty of war and were taken back to Europe. The incident of the Santa Catarina was most certainly not uncontroversial from a legal point of view …

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  • 70 Years of the International Law Commission: Drawing a Balance for the Future

    This week the International Law Commission starts its seventieth session in New York. For the past seventy years, the Commission has played an indispensable role in the progressive development of international law and its codification. To mark the seventieth anniversary of the Commission, a photo exhibit is on display at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, which features images of the Peace Palace Library Photo Collection. The exhibit explores the achievements of the Commission and places them in historical context – a history in which the city of The Hague plays a special role. A guest blog by Bart Smit Duijzentkunst.

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  • Book Review: War, Peace and International Order?

    This book attempts to assess the history and on-going relevance of the 1899 and 1907 Hague peace conferences, the conventions they brought into being, the institutions they established and the precedents they set. The exact legacies of the two conferences remain unclear. On the one hand, diplomatic and military historians, who cast their gaze to 1914, traditionally dismiss the events of 1899 and 1907 as insignificant footnotes on the path to the First World War. On the other, experts in international law posit that The Hague’s foremost legacy lies in the manner in which the conferences progressed the law of war and the concept and application of international justice.

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  • The Treaties of Ryswick (1697)

    In 1697, the Huis ter Nieuburch in Rijswijk was the scene of the negotiations which led to so-called “Peace of Ryswick”. These negotiations sought to end the Nine-Years War between France on one side and the Grand Alliance of Spain, England, The Dutch Republic and The Holy Roman Empire. The Peace Treaty of Rijswijk was not a single document but consisted of a number of treaties which were signed during the months of September and October 1697. The treaties have been scanned in order to familiarize researchers with our historical collection.

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  • The Raid on the Medway, 1667: Forcing Peace at Breda

    350 Years ago, the Treaty of Breda was signed at the Dutch city of Breda, 31 July, 1667, by England, the Dutch Republic, France, and Denmark-Norway. It brought a hasty end to the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) in favour of the Dutch. It was a typical quick uti possidetis treaty. In the latter stages of the war, the Dutch had prevailed. Lieutenant-Admiral-General Michiel de Ruyter virtually controlled the seas around the south coast of England. His presence encouraged English commissioners to sue for peace quickly. Negotiations, which had been long protracted, and had actually begun in Breda before the raid, took only ten days to conclude after resumption of talks.

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  • Happy Retirement Ingrid!

    [On the retirement of our curator Ingrid Kost; blog in Dutch] Vandaag 15 januari 2015 is een memorabele dag voor de bibliotheek van het Vredespaleis. Wij nemen na 39 jaar afscheid van onze collega Ingrid Kost. Zij zal genieten van een welverdiend pensioen. Tijd om andere dingen te gaan doen, zoals oppassen op de kleinkinderen en bijenhouden. Wij zullen haar deerlijk missen als collega en als mens. Alvorens vandaag afscheid te nemen, spraken wij met haar en haalden herinneringen op.

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  • Building a 'Temple for Peace': the Choice of the Site

    The Treaty for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, concluded on 29 July 1899, determined that the newly created Permanent Court of Arbitration was to be established at The Hague. As Andrew Carnegie’s gift of 1903 was meant primarily for the erection of a new and appealing court house and library to serve its arbiters, there could be no argument, as to where this ‘Temple for Peace’ was to be built. It should be at The Hague. But where in The Hague precisely was quite another thing.

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  • Building a ‘Temple for Peace’: Inspired Advocates and a Philanthropist

    Shortly after the 1899 Hague Peace Conference had ended, William T. Stead, a highly energetic and respected British journalist and pacifist who had followed the peace conference as an observer, and Andrew D. White, the American head of delegation and ambassador in Germany, convinced the Scottish-born American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to finance the ‘Temple for Peace’ that was to become the Peace Palace in The Hague.

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  • Building a ‘Temple for Peace’: the 1899 Hague Peace Conference

    This year, the Peace Palace, will celebrate its 100-year Anniversary. As official celebrations will commence in August, the Peace Palace Library starts with a series of library blogs in retrospect. The foundation of the Peace Palace in 1913 marked a pivotal point between two centuries. At the end of the 19th century, the idea of world peace was blooming as never before. At the dawn of the 20th century however, expectations had toned down considerably.

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  • “John Selden : Scholarship in Context” Conference

    Magdalen College in Oxford hosted the “John Selden : Scholarship in Context” Conference from 24th-26th June, a tribute to England’s “Chief of learned men”.

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  • Impressions of the 60 years Genocide Convention

    Impressions of the 60 years Genocide Convention On Sunday 7 and Monday 8 December, The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Center for International Law and the Peace Palace Library organized a conference in The Hague to mark the 60th anniversary of the Genocide Convention. At the conference several legal and […]

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See also

More Research guides on Public International Law

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Systematic classification → History of international law