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History, Politics, Law: Thinking Through the International

May 16-17, 2016: Clare College, Cambridge

In recent years, two decisive trends have occurred in the fields of international law and the history of political thought. The ‘historical turn’ in international law has involved students of that discipline in intense reflection on what kind of history international law can, and should, have. At the same time, the history of political thought has been undergoing an ‘international’ (or indeed a global) turn, changing its focus from questions largely generated by conceptualising the state or polity in isolation to questions arising from thinking of politics and polities in relation to others. As a result, international lawyers and historians of political thought have increasingly been reading each other’s work to their mutual benefit. Nevertheless, neither turn has been methodologically very comfortable for its participants, nor have people from either discipline got together to try to think through, in any systematic way, where it is that the history of political thought and the history of international law come together, and where – and if – they must necessarily divide.

HPL in progressWhat is it to do one or the other? The purpose of this conference , held in May 2016, was to address that question by bringing together some of the most distinguished practitioners in both fields for a sustained discussion. The conference began with a directly methodological opening session, and then proceeded to think through the historical in international law, and the international in the history of political thought, in a series of themed conversations.

HPL programme

This conference was made possible by the generous support of the Cambridge Centre for Political Thought; the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki; the Faculty of History (Trevelyan Fund), University of Cambridge; and the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law.

HPL reception