International Organization through Law? The League of Nations and International Law, 1919-1939

Among legal scholars it has long been recognised that the League of Nations system, including the International Labour Organisation and the Permanent Court of International Justice, laid the foundations on which post-1945 international cooperation and international law was based. However, the political fiasco of the League in addressing interwar security dilemmas, and the collapsing world order in the 1930s that led to the Second World War, has until recently meant that neither legal scholars nor historians have studied the legal history of the League of Nations system systematically. This is still the case despite a renewed interest in the League and other interwar international organisations in historical scholarship on the one hand and the emergence of a rich intellectual history of international law in the interwar period authored by legal scholars on the other. While these separate fields of scholarship have highlighted the rich variety in international legal thinking and the lasting impact of the first international organisations on the contemporary international order, they have overlooked how organising the international was fundamentally intertwined with the development of international law.

This conference will address this lacuna by focusing on the bureaucrats, delegates, associations, and many other actors involved in producing and shaping international law and legal techniques while developing the League of Nations system. As the first conference to systematically discuss archive-based legal history of the League of Nations system, it challenges the current disciplinary division by innovatively examining from a bottom-up perspective how these individuals, as proponents of key institutions, networks and states, appropriated international law for the realization of their national and international agendas, while in turn finding these agendas importantly influenced and even restricted by the emerging system of international law.


10:00 – 10:20 Welcome by Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen) and Stefan Vogenauer (Director, mpilhlt)

Panel I: Interwar International Institutions and International Law (Part 1)

Chair: Karin van Leeuwen (University of Maastricht)

10:20 – 10:40 Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen)
The Legal Section of the General Secretariat – An Agent of International Law?

10:40 – 11:00  Aden Knaap (Harvard University)
Geneva versus the Hague: The League of Nations and the Permanent Court of International Justice

11:00 – 11:40  Guy Fiti Sinclair (University of Auckland)
Discussant and debate                   

11:40 – 12:40  Lunch break

Panel II: Interwar International Institutions and International Law (Part 2)

Chair: Jean-Michel Guieu (University Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne)

12:40 – 13:00  Michel Erpelding (University of Luxembourg)
Peace through Law: The Legal Techniques Used to Stabilize Upper Silesia

13:00 – 13:20  Jakob Zollmann (Berlin Social Science Centre)
New Forms of International Adjudication: The History of the Mixed Arbitral Tribunals, 1919 - 1939

13:20 – 14:00  Megan Donaldson (University College London)
Discussant and debate

14:00 – 14:20 Coffee

Panel III: States and International Law

Chair: Haakon Ikonomou (University of Copenhagen)

14:20 – 14:40 Tomoko Akami (Australian National University)
Foreign Policy and International Law: The Case of Japan

14:40 – 15:00 Thomas Storgaard (University of Copenhagen)
Scholars to arms: how the German Foreign Office mobilized and expanded international law communities as an instrument of revision in the Reich’s foreign policy, 1919-1925         

15:00 – 15:10 Break

15:10 – 15:30 Andrei Mamolea (Boston University)
Escaping Washington’s Tutelage: Latin America and International Law at the League of Nations

15:30-15:50 Jean-Michel Guieu (University of Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)
France and the General Act of Arbitration from drafting to ratification (1927-1931)

15:50 – 17:00 Peter Jackson (University of Glasgow)
Discussant and debate

17:10 – 17:10 Conclusion of the First Day by Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen)



09:15 – 09:30 Welcome by Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen)

Panel IV: Networks and Networkers in International Law

Chair: Vera Fritz (University of Luxembourg)

9:40 – 10:00    Karin van Leeuwen (University of Maastricht)
International Law Meets the League of Nations: The Formation of a Transnational Field of International Law

10:00 – 10:20  Jens Wegener (RUB Bochum)
Financing International law: The Role of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Building a Profession

10:20 – 10:40 Break

10:40 – 11:00  Rasmus Søndergaard (Danish Institute for International Studies)
The League, International Law and America: The Networking of Manley Hudson

11:00 -11:20   Marilena Papadaki (University of Athens)
Between Law and Politics: The Networking of Nicolas Politis

11:20 – 12:30  Glenda Sluga (European University Institute)
Discussant and debate   

12:30 – 13:30 Lunch Break            

Panel V: Policies and Legal Norms I

Chair: Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen)        

13:30 – 13:50  Haakon Ikonomou (University of Copenhagen)
The Limits of Law: Disarmament and International Law 1919-1934

13:50 – 14:10  Nicholas Mulder (Cornell University)
International Security and Economic Warfare: League of Nations Sanctions and International Law

14:10 – 14:50 Henri de Waele (Radboud University Nijmegen and University of Antwerp)
Discussant and debate

14:50 – 15:10 Coffee Break

Panel V: Policies and Legal Norms II

15:10 – 15:30  Leonard Smith (Oberlin College & Conservatory)
Weberian Sovereignty in the League Mandates, 1923 - 1939

15:30 – 15:50  Megan Donaldson (UCL London)
The Edges of Law: Boundaries of Legal Discourse in the League of Nations

15:50 – 16:30  Jochen von Bernstorff (University of Tübingen)
Comments and debate

16:30 – 16:50 Break

Final debate

16:50-18:20 Peter Jackson (University of Glasgow)
The League of Nations and the Problem of International Order: contending perspectives from 1919
Commented by Megan Donaldson, Leonard Smith and Morten Rasmussen

18:20 – 18:30 Conclusion by Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen)



Paper givers

Tomoko Akami
Associate Professor, Australian National University, School of Culture, History & Language

Megan Donaldson
Lecturer, University College London, Faculty of Laws

Michel Erpelding
Postdoc, University of Luxembourg 

Jean-Michel Guieu
Lecturer, Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne  

Haakon Ikonomou
Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Saxo Institute 

Aden Knaap
Doctoral Student, Harvard University 

Karin van Leeuwen
Assistant Professor, Maastricht University, Department of History 

Andrei Mamolea
Assistant Professor, Boston University, Frederick S Pardee School of Global Studies

Nicholas Mulder
Assistant Professor, Cornell University, Department of History 

Marilena Papadaki
Research Fellow, University of Athens 

Morten Rasmussen
Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Saxo Institute 

Leonard V. Smith
Frederick B Artz Professor of History, Oberlin College, History

Rasmus Søndergaard
Senior researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies

Thomas Storgaard
Doctoral student, University of Copenhagen, Saxo Institute 

Jens Wegener 

Jakob Zollmann
Research Fellow, Berlin Social Science Center, Center for Global Constitutionalism, 

Discussants and chair

Glenda Sluga
Professor, European University Institute, Department of History 

Guy Fiti Sinclair
Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland, Auckland Law School 

Jochen von Bernstorff
Professor, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Juristische Fakultät 

Henri de Waele
Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen and University of Antwerp 

Peter Jackson
Professor, University of Glasgow, School of Humanities 

Vera Fritz
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, University of Copenhagen, Saxo Institute