Legal History as Foreign Relations History
Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations, 3rd ed., Michael J. Hogan, Thomas G. Patterson, and Frank Costigliola, eds. (Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming).
20 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2014 Last revised: 29 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 4, 2014
This paper is for a leading work on the methodologies of foreign relations history. Traditionally, diplomatic historians have been skeptical about law as a causal force in international relations, and have often ignored it. Challenging that assumption, this essay shows that law is already present in aspects of foreign relations history scholarship. Using human rights as an example, I explore the way periodization of legal histories is tied to assumptions and arguments about causality. I illustrate the way law has worked as a tool in international affairs, and the way law makes an indelible mark, or acts as a legitimizing force, affecting what historical actors imagine to be possible. Drawing from Robert Gordon’s influential work on the methodology of legal history, the essay shows the way law can help to constitute the social and political context within which international affairs are conducted. I argue that the presence of law and lawyers in the history of U.S. foreign relations is too central to be ignored.
For a scholar without legal training, taking up law-related topics can pose special challenges. This essay ends with a Legal History Survival Guide that includes advice about how to get started and how to avoid mistakes.
Keywords: foreign relations, diplomatic, history, historiography, methodology, human rights, international
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