Imagining Peace in the Long Nineteenth Century (1789–1914)

International Conference with Martti Koskenniemi, Raphaël Cahen and Hendrik Simon

Congress of Vienna

Congress of Vienna © Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla CC BY-ND 2.0

In the long nineteenth century, powerful poli­tical, legal, eco­nomic, and cultural deve­lopments made a radical and lasting impact on the possible repre­sentations of peace. Tradi­tional balance of power reasonings made way for attempts to reduce the prevalence of armed conflict in parts of the world. Signi­ficant sections of European and American society came to define peace not simply as the mere ‘absence of war’, but as a desirable, long-term condition in which disputes were consis­tently settled paci­fically.

Legal history has yet to uncover the full extent of norma­tive peace-thinking in the long nineteenth century, stretching beyond treaty practice and doctrinal texts. Legal voca­bularies from various legal cultures strongly informed the ima­gination of statesmen, sovereigns, lawyers, philan­thropists, and social reformers. As bricoleurs, they grasped any materials at hand to imagine normative solutions to the myriad problems related to the peaceful co-existence of states and peoples.

A first approach to outline these new voices will be the inter­national conference “Imagining Peace in the Long Nineteenth Century (1789-1914)” organized by Wouter De Rycke and TRACE research associate Raphaël Cahen on September 15 in Brussels, where leading researchers in the field of war, peace, and inter­national law history such as Martti Koskenniemi, Stella Ghervas and Miloš Vec are invited. Martti Koskenniemi will deliver the keynote address.

PRIF’s Hendrik Simon will give a lecture on emerging discourses of prohi­biting war in the early 19th century, highlighting core content from his forthcoming book A Century of Anarchy? War, Normativity, and the Birth of Modern International Order (Oxford University Press 2023). Contra­dicting some influential narratives (most recently Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, The Internationalists, Simon & Schuster 2017), Hendrik Simon argues that the modern prohibition of war did not emerge with a big bang in the early 20th century. Rather, it slowly formed as an emerging norm in the 19th century.


15 September 2023


Vrije Universiteit Brussel

You can download the full provisional programme here.