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A History of the International Legal Order: Between Colonialism and Self-Determination (LAW-DS-HISLEG-23)


Department LAW
Course category LAW Short Seminar
Course type Seminar
Academic year 2023-2024
Credits 3 (EUI Law credits)
Contact Law Department administration,
  Course materials

14/11/2023 13:00-15:00 @ Sala degli Stemmi, Villa Salviati

21/11/2023 13:00-15:00 @ Sala degli Stemmi, Villa Salviati

29/11/2023 17:00-19:00 @ Sala del Camino, Villa Salviati

05/12/2023 13:00-15:00 @ Sala degli Stemmi, Villa Salviati

12/12/2023 15:00-17:00 @ Sala degli Stemmi, Villa Salviati


This seminar explores the history of the encounter between ‘Europe’ and the ‘non-Western’ world. More specifically, it examines the ways in which the Western international order has conceived and managed the encounter with non-Western peoples.

This encounter was fraught with violence and war. From the Spanish conquest of the ‘Indies’ at the end of the 15th century, to the scramble for Africa in the 19th century, Western states have ruled overseas by force. The colonial enterprise, however, was sustained on more than the raw power. The colonial enterprise was justified. International law sanctioned colonial dispossession, recognizing titles to Western states –redefining territories as terra nullius for example– and providing a general justification –the civilizing mission– to colonialism.

But after a long struggle for self-determination, formal colonialism came to an end during the 1960s process of decolonization. Should we understand this historical pattern as a progression from colonialism to self-determination? Some historians, scholars of international law and international relations believe so. They think that the European inter-state order became an international order with a global scope when non-Western peoples were recognized as sovereign and independent states. Thus, after decolonization, embodying the principle of self-determination, the international legal order has become truly universal.

Others –like TWAIL scholars– believe that historically, the Western international order has always managed the encounter with the non-Western world by sustaining the domination of the former over the latter. In this vein, decolonization did not mark progress but a continuity. Formal sovereignty of newly independent states replaced colonial rule but not Western imperialism.

This seminar explores both interpretations. The international legal order, one the one hand, as an order where states interact as equal sovereigns regardless of cultural, racial or religious differences, and on the other, as an order that perpetuates non-Western domination. We will examine these interpretations focusing on specific historical junctures, between the 15th century conquest of the Americas and the post-1945 legal order, in which we may see not only non-Western domination, but also non-Western resistance.

First, Second & Third Term: registration from 25 to 28 September

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Page last updated on 05 September 2023

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