The Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights
Faculty of Law
P.O. BOX 4 (visiting address: Yliopistonkatu 3)
Tel: +358 (0)29 4123140



International Law and Empire


Convenors: Martti Koskenniemi and Anne Orford

Helsinki, 4-6 October 2011

Venue: Banquet Rooms in Unioninkatu (unioninkatu 33)


For participation please contact, participation is limited!

The workshop is cosponsored by the Erik Castrén Institute for International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki; the Institute for International Law and the Humanities, University of Melbourne; the European Research Council research project on "Europe between Revolution and Reaction 1815-1914", and the Australian Research Council research project on "Cosmopolitanism and the Future of International Law".

Many of the thinkers who have been hailed as the founders of modern liberal international law – including Francisco de Vitoria, Alberico Gentili, Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Emer de Vattel – developed doctrines and theories that helped in the expansion of empire. For centuries, international law has been used to justify, civilise and sometimes to limit the imperial ambitions of powerful international actors. Its rules have organised the acquisition of non- European territory by Europeans and the relations between European settlers and native populations. From the eighteenth to the twentieth century the "Public law of Europe" divided the world into civilised and uncivilised nations, constituting relations of inequality and dependency between them. At the same time, the rules of ownership, contract and freedom of movement originating in Europe laid the basis for a global network of commercial relations. The ensuing "empire of private law" has often been at least as important in upholding relations of domination and exploitation between imperial centres and peripheries as rules on sovereignty and jurisdiction. Well into the twentieth century – and perhaps still today – European and United States global influence has shifted between moments of "formal" and "informal" empire. In the construction of both, law and legal thought have played a central role.

This workshop will bring together leading scholars from international law, history, anthropology, international relations and literature, to assess the role of law in the organisation and occasional critique of formal and informal empire, and the role of empire (and the righteous critique of empire) in the organisation of modern international law. How did international law contribute to the process of European expansion from the 16th century to the 20th century? What has been the role of legal institutions and legal thought in the organisation of global commercial relations from the time of the Spanish empire to the present? How have international law and legal thought affected the global distribution of material and spiritual resources? To what extent have rules of public and private law facilitated the establishment of imperial relationships and when have they instead operated as an anti-imperial force?

Alongside such historical questions, the purpose is also to examine the persistence of empire in today's global political and economic relations. To what extent do the concepts of empire and imperialism help to grasp the nature of global relations today? Do categories of "formal" and "informal" empire still have a useful role to play in analysing the present world? Are the normative foundations and the legal relationships of "globalisation" similar or different from those of formal "empire"? Have imperialism and anti-imperialism still purchase as terms of political analysis and engagement?

We have in a preliminary way divided the workshop theme into the following topics (potentially panels): 1) Universalism and the Holy Roman Empire 2) International law and early imperial expansion: Spain, the Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire 3) International law and the normative foundations of empire 1600-1914 4) Informal empire and the history of administration 5) International institutions and the transformations of empire 6) Private law and commercial empire 7) International law and the critique of empire 8) Empires and/of humanitarianism

Invited speakers will be addressing the above topics and the plan is to publish their interventions later in a collected volume by an international publisher.


Information for speakers:

- Hotel Rivoli Jardin

Seminar coordinator in Helsinki, Sanna Villikka

phone: +358-9-1912 3140, mobile: +358-50-5762948

e-mail: /