In the spring of 2020, the global crisis provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic upheaved the scholarly world. By now the dreary refrain is all too common: cancellation of conferences, workshops, book launches, physical fragmentation of the scholarly world from closing of national borders and the sudden disintegration of the arteries of our world; to the forced emptying out of our university classrooms and yards. For many of us, there has been a frantic scramble overnight to reorient pedagogies and the way entire courses are taught and delivered; and there has been the undeniable impact of the pandemic on early career scholars who now face a landscape of frozen searches, suspended funding, lack of access to archives etc. At the heart of this is an overarching series of anxieties for the globalized world so many of us study; one which defines our personal and professional lives. As if there was ever a clear division.

As the crisis unfolded, planning began in earnest on the inaugural seminar Global History and International Law. The goal was simple: to cross national borders now closed out of the insistence and the belief that the antecedents of global world matter, and the present can benefit from debating questions of world order historically. Even more, the spring seminars have been motivated by the insistence that globalization, empire, international law and humanitarianism are central not only to a generation of historians and lawyers, but to the pressing problems of our contemporary world.

The Spring Seminar 2020 divided into nine separate sessions, each of which explored the imperial origins of the world order and the changing forms of international violence: genocide, forced labor, slavery, sexual violence and the rise of humanitarianism.

Co-hosted by the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard and the Graduate Institute in Geneva, the Spring Seminar 2021 offered a new format, moderated by Daniel R. Quiroga-Villamarín and by myself, and divided into seven conversations between three well-known experts. Through the spatial and temporal arc of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from the Global South to the former seats of empire – past and present – in Europe and North America, it explores histories of capitalism, the laws of war, anti-colonial imaginations, decolonization, the role of women in international law and migrations.

I could not have embarked upon this project in 2020 and 2021 without the support of many people. First, I want to publicly thank the amazing group of scholars whose dedication and enthusiasm drove this project forward from start, and the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History and the Graduate Institute for co-hosting this initiative in 2021. In the spring of 2020, Andrew Levidis was the best possible colleague and partner in pushing this initiative in global history forward at crucial moments. In the spring of 2021, Daniel R. Quiroga-Villamarín helped me to build, reconceptualize and expand this initiative into a formidable discussion series. I’m incredibly thankful for his constant help and good human. On the backend, Matthieu Toamain was ever generous of his time, and a passionate collaborator in providing the technical architecture of this website. 


Ann-Sophie Schoepfel

April 2021.