ESIL Interest Group History of International Law

ESIL Interest Group History of International Law

Monday 19 June 2023

BOOK: Priyasha SAKSENA, "Sovereignty, International Law, and the Princely States of Colonial South Asia", Series: The History and Theory of International Law (CUP, 2023)

Image source: CUP

What constitutes a sovereign state in the international legal sphere? This question has been central to international law for centuries. Sovereignty, International Law, and the Princely States of Colonial South Asia provides a compelling exploration of the history of sovereignty through an analysis of the jurisdictional politics involving a specific set of historical legal entities.

Governed by local rulers, the princely states of colonial South Asia were subject to British paramountcy whilst remaining legally distinct from directly ruled British India. Their legal status and the extent of their rights remained the subject of feverish debates through the entirety of British colonial rule. This book traces the ways in which the language of sovereignty shaped the discourse surrounding the legal status of the princely states to illustrate how the doctrine of sovereignty came to structure political imagination in colonial South Asia and the framework of the modern Indian state.

Opening with a survey of the place of the princely states in the colonial structures of South Asia, Sovereignty, International Law, and the Princely States of Colonial South Asia goes on to illustrate how international lawyers, British politicians, colonial officials, rulers and bureaucrats of princely states, and anti-colonial nationalists in British India used definitions of sovereignty to construct political orders in line with their interests and aspirations. By invoking the vernacular of sovereignty in contrasting ways to support their differing visions of imperial and world order, these actors also attempted to reconfigure the boundaries among the spheres of the national, the imperial, and the international. Throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, debates and disputes over the princely states continually defined and redefined the concept of sovereignty and international legitimacy in South Asia.

Using rich material from the colonial archives, Sovereignty, International Law, and the Princely States of Colonial South Asia conveys an understanding of the history of sovereignty and the construction of the modern Indian nation-state that is still relevant today. A riveting read, this book will be of considerable interest and importance to scholars of international law and South Asia, legal historians, and political scientists.

  • Places the princely states of colonial South Asia at the heart of debates over the boundaries of international law
  • Examines debates over the legal status of the princely states to analyse the relationship between colonialism and international law in South Asia
  • Draws on extensive archival research to present legal arguments made by international lawyers, British politicians, colonial officials, rulers and bureaucrats of princely states, and anticolonial nationalists in British India
  • Explores the changing meaning of sovereignty in colonial South Asia

Table of Contents:

2:Setting the Stage: The Legal Construction of British Paramountcy
3:Jousting Over Jurisdiction: Sovereignty Debates in the Aftermath of the 1857 Rebellion
4:The Controversy Over Divisible Sovereignty: The Princes and the Indian States Committee
5:Political Negotiations: The Princes in the Federation Debates
6:Building the Nation: The Princely States in the Age of Decolonization

Author Information:

Priyasha Saksena, Lecturer in Law, University of Leeds

Priyasha Saksena is a lecturer at the School of Law, University of Leeds, UK. Her research focuses on the historical development of legal concepts and institutions within the British empire and their contemporary effects. She is particularly interested in exploring how legal doctrines such as sovereignty have shaped the relationship between international law and colonialism.

Tuesday 13 June 2023

BOOK: Simon HINRICHSEN, "When Nations Can't Default: A History of War Reparations and Sovereign Debt" (CUP, 2023)

Image courtesy: CUP


War reparations have been large and small, repaid and defaulted on, but the consequences have almost always been significant. Ever since Keynes made his case against German reparations in The Economic Consequences of the Peace, the effects of transfer payments have been hotly debated. When Nations Can't Default tells the history of war reparations and their consequences by combining history, political economy, and open economy macroeconomics. It visits often forgotten episodes and tells the story of how reparations were mostly repaid - and when they were not. Analysing fifteen episodes of war reparations, this book argues that reparations are unlike other sovereign debt because repayment is enforced by military and political force, making it a senior liability of the state.
  • Provides a thorough review of recent war reparations, which has not been compiled before
  • Makes sovereign debt theory accessible to readers without specialized training in economics
  • Gives readers an understanding of why countries pay reparations, even if it makes no economic sense and has disastrous consequences

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
2. A framework for war reparations
3. Sovereign debt
4. Napoleonic Wars reparations
5. Haiti indemnity and sovereign debt
6. Franco-Prussian War indemnities
7. Smaller 19th century war reparations
8. German World War I reparations
9. Russian and Bulgarian World War I reparations
10. World War II reparations to the Soviet Bloc.

Visit CUP's website for more information.

Thursday 8 June 2023

WORKSHOP: "New international histories of decolonisation and the United Nations", (EUI/Zoom, 14 June 2023)


This workshop will explore new research into international histories of decolonisation, with a focus on the United Nations. Bringing together academics and experts on both topics, the workshop will examine the various ways in which the UN facilitated and hindered decolonisation in the mid-twentieth century and demonstrate how colonial and neo-colonial behaviours persist in present times.

The workshop will consist of two panel discussions, both providing an opportunity for the invited academics to share their research through presentations, followed by a Q&A.

The first discussion will focus on three specific UN structures to better understand how different, often peripheral parts of the UN, dealt with decolonisation campaigns in the past. The second panel invites scholars who examine cases of ongoing colonisation, including the Rwenzururu Kingdom in western Uganda, West Papua and Palestine. This discussion will explore the international dimensions of decolonisation in the present, captivating not only historians but researchers and experts across the EUI who are interested in the UN from a variety of perspectives.

Please register in order to get a seat or the ZOOM link.

Scientific Organiser(s):

Siobhan Amelia Smith (European University Institute)


Siobhan Amelia Smith (European University Institute)


Emma Kluge (EUI)

Alessia Tortolini (University of Pisa/the Institute of Security and Global Affairs of Leiden University in The Hague)

Yusra Abdullahi (University of Leiden)

Alanna O Malley (University of Leiden)

Margot Tudor (University of Exeter)

Anne Irfan (University College London)

Consult the EUI event page for more information.

Wednesday 7 June 2023

CALL FOR PAPERS: XXVIIth Annual Forum of Young Legal Historians, "Meetings of Legal Culture" (University of Sarajevo, 21-23 September 2023, DEADLINE: 1 July 2023)

Image source: email by organizers



XXVIIth Annual Forum of Young Legal Historians Sarajevo, (21 - 23 September 2023)


We are pleased to announce a call for papers for our upcoming gathering, which aims to explore the convergence of legal cultures. This event seeks to provide a platform for young legal historians to share their latest research on the meeting of legal cultures. We welcome papers that examine the challenges and opportunities presented by cross-cultural encounters, and that shed light on the ways in which legal systems have evolved and adapted to new contexts. 

The convergence of legal cultures between the Orient and Occident has played a pivotal role in the development of law throughout history. As the East and West have interacted and exchanged ideas, legal systems have adapted and evolved to new contexts. However, these encounters have also presented significant challenges, particularly when reconciling conflicting norms and protecting fundamental values. The ongoing encounter of legal cultures between the Orient and Occident remains a critical aspect of legal history, shaping the evolution of law and promoting a more interconnected and just legal system that embraces both Eastern and Western perspectives.

The study of the convergence of legal cultures is crucial for legal history because it sheds light on the ways in which legal systems have developed and interacted with each other over time. By examining how legal systems have evolved through cross-cultural encounters, legal historians can gain insight into the complex dynamics of legal change and devel
opment. Moreover, the study of the convergence of legal cultures can help legal historians to uncover the diverse range of legal traditions that have existed throughout history, and to appreciate the unique contributions that different legal systems have made to the evolution of law. Ultimately, by studying the convergence of legal cultures, legal historians can better understand the complex and dynamic nature of law, and can contribute to the development of a more inclusive and diverse legal history.

The following are not an exhaustive list of topics we would like to see submissions fall under:

1. Meeting of legal cultures

2. Religious law

3. Roman law 

4. Modern legal systems

We believe that the conference gives young legal historians a unique opportunity to present their research in the field and to get acquainted with the interdisciplinary approaches presented by their colleagues from around the world. If you would like to present a paper during the conference, please send an application including an abstract of not more than 250 words and your CV to before 1st of July. Presentations have to be in English and should not exceed 20 minutes each. 

The conference fee will be € 150 (for online participants €100) - and does not include travel and accommodation. After 1st of July accepted papers will be informed and will be contacted further to complete the registration by paying the conference fee.

Best Regards,

Organizing Committee

For more details, visit the AYLH website.