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Ambivalence, anxieties / adaptations, advances: conceptual history and international law

Clark, Martin (2018) Ambivalence, anxieties / adaptations, advances: conceptual history and international law. Leiden Journal of International Law, 31 (4). pp. 747-771. ISSN 0922-1565

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0922156518000432


Scholars of the history of international law have recently begun to wonder whether their work is predominantly about law or history. The questions we ask — about materials, contexts and movements — all raise intractable problems of historiography. And yet despite this extensive and appropriate questioning within the field, and its general inclination towards theory and theorising, few scholars have turned to the vast expanses of historical theory to try to think through how we might go about addressing them. This article works towards remedying that gap by exploring why and how we might engage with historiography more deeply. Part One shows how the last three decades of the ‘turn to history’ can be usefully read as a move from ambivalence to anxiety. The major works of the 2000s thoroughly removed the pre-1990s ambivalence to history in general, with brief considerations about method. Efforts in the last decade to build on those works have led to the present era of anxiety about both history and method, raising questions around materials, contexts and movements. And yet far from a negative state, this moment of anxiety is both appropriate and potentially creative: it prompts us to rethink our mode of engaging with historiography. Part Two explores how this mode of engagement might proceed. It reconstructs the principles and debates within conceptual history around the anxieties of materials, contexts and movements. It then explores how these might be adapted to histories of international law, both generally and within one concrete project: a conceptual history of recognition in the writings of British jurists. Part Three concludes by considering the advances achieved by this kind of engagement, and reflects on new directions for international law and its histories.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law
Divisions: Law
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2018 14:32
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 03:09

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