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History and Theory of International Law Reading List

International law is going through a period of sustained interest in its own historical roots and theoretical foundations. Many scholars and students recognise the value of these explorations for their own sake, and the historical anecdotes and theoretical insights unearthed in the growing literature are often interesting and surprising. At the same time, the whole exercise is dismissed by those with a more practical perspective on international law as epistemic navel-gazing.

This reading list highlights why every international lawyer should care about the theory and history of their field and shows how this scholarship can help us better understand today’s world. Andrea Bianchi sets out the manifesto for thinking about international law and trying to better understand our own theoretical preferences and assumptions. Craven’s and Koskenniemi’s work explains and assesses the ‘turn to history’ and the insights that can be gained from it.

The chapters that follow show how an awareness of the historical development of international law and of its theoretical tenets helps to better understand issues ranging from free trade, human rights, and Western attempts to promote global economic development through international organizations; to the rise of (now ending?) US hegemony and China’s complicated relationship with the international legal order. In the context of contemporary debates about Western civilization and the barbarity of ISIS, Andrew Fitzmaurice’s work illuminates historical scepticism of international law’s Eurocentric ‘civilizing mission’.

Finally, C.H. Alexandrowicz’ 1974 piece on the place of new states in the international legal order—a question that is still very relevant today— and Susan Marks’ article on democracy and international law remind us that it is not only recent work that sheds light on contemporary problems.


Andrea Bianchi: Different Ways of Thinking about International Law from: Andrea Bianchi, International Law Theories (2016)

Matthew Craven: Theorizing the Turn to History in International Law from: Anne Orford and Florian Hoffmann (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law (2016)

Martti Koskenniemi: Expanding Histories of International Law from: the American Journal of Legal History (2016) 56 (1)

Anne Orford: Theorizing Free Trade from: Anne Orford and Florian Hoffmann (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law (2016) 

Liora Lazarus: The Right to Security from: Rowan Cruft, S. Matthew Liao, and Massimo Renzo (eds), Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights (2015) 

Guy Fiti Sinclair: Into Development from: Guy Fiti Sinclair, To Reform the World: International Organizations and the Making of Modern States (2017)  

Juan Pablo Scarfi: Towards a Pan-American Legal Order: The Rise of US Hemispheric Hegemony and Elihu Root’s Visit to South America from: Juan Pablo Scarfi, The Hidden History of International Law in the Americas: Empire and Legal Networks (2017)

Shin Kawashima: China from: Bardo Fassbender and Anne Peters (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law (2012)

Andrew Fitzmaurice: Scepticism of the Civilizing Mission in International Law from: Martti Koskenniemi, Walter Rech, and Manuel Jiménez Fonseca (eds), International Law and Empire: Historical Explorations (2017)

C.H. Alexandrowicz: The New States and International Law (1974) from: C.H. Alexandrowicz and David Armitage and Jennifer Pitts (eds), The Law of Nations in Global History (2017)

Susan Marks: The End of History? Reflections on Some International Legal Theses from: the European Journal of International Law (1997) 8 (3)