Write On! Call for Papers on ‘International Law’s Objects: Emergence, Encounter and Erasure through Object and Image’ (deadline 18 April)

HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland, by Samuel Atkins c.1794. [British Royal Navy vessel commanded by James Cook on his voyage to Australia and New Zealand]

Dr. Jessie Hohmann (Queen Mary University of London) and Dr. Daniel Joyce (University of New South Wales) invite proposals for contributions to an edited book on International Law’s Objects: Emergence, Encounter and Erasure through Object and Image. They write: “The contributions are short and creative.  We hope that the project will open up some innovative ways to think about international law, but also that it will provide a practical resource for teachers.  We plan to publish the selected contributions with Oxford University Press following a conference in the first part of 2016.”


The study of international law is highly text based. Whether as practice, scholarship or pedagogy, the discipline of international law both relies on and produces a wealth of written material. Cases, treaties, and volumes of academic writing are the legal sources through which most of us working in international law relate to the subject, and, at times we might come to feel that these texts are our major project and output.

Yet international law has a rich existence in the world. International law is often developed, conveyed and authorised through objects or images. From the symbolic (the regalia of the head of state and the symbols of sovereignty), to the mundane (a can of dolphin-safe tuna certified as complying with international trade standards), international legal authority can be found in the objects around us. Similarly, the practice of international law often relies on material objects or images, both as evidence (satellite images, bones of the victims of mass atrocities) and to found authority (for instance, maps and charts).

Motivating this project are three questions:

  • First, what might studying international law through objects reveal? What might objects, rather than texts, tell us about sources, recognition of states, construction of territory, law of the sea, or international human rights law?
  • Second, what might this scholarly undertaking reveal about the objects – as aims or projects – of international law? How do objects reveal, or perhaps mask, these aims, and what does this tell us about the reasons some (physical or material) objects are foregrounded, and others hidden or ignored?
  • Third, which objects will be selected? We anticipate a no doubt eclectic but illuminating collection, which points to objects made central, but also objects disclaimed, by international law. Moreover, the project will result in a fascinating artefact (itself an object) of the preoccupations of the profession at this moment in time.

There are various ways one might begin to think about international law through objects. These categories are offered provisionally, and are in no sense intended to constrain the imagination of contributors:

  • The first is those objects which are used routinely in the study and practice of international law. These include treaties and diplomatic cables for instance. These are normally rendered in text but represent important objects of interest in their own right. An extension of this category, also routinely used in international law scholarship and practice, are maps.
  • A second category might be those ritual objects that seek to convey the power and authority of international law though their symbolic weight. Such objects might include, for example, the flag planted by Captain Cook to claim the territory now known as Australia, the gavel used in the Nuremberg trials, or the Hague Peace Palace itself.

  • A third category of objects are those that convey the way international law operates over individuals. For example, consumer goods marked to demonstrate compliance with international standards illustrate complex issues of trade regulation and our experience of it, while a relocation village built to accommodate ‘project affected peoples’ illuminates another aspect of global development. Meanwhile, a landmine is a way of interrogating international humanitarian law, a skull from a mass grave a way of considering the international crime of genocide. An image of the border fence between the US and Mexico might illustrate contemporary manifestations of territory.
  • A fourth category could investigate those objects ‘written out’ of international law. For example, these objects might include the regalia of sovereignty of peoples denied that sovereignty by international law, such as the two-row Wampum belts of native communities in North America. This category is perhaps the most difficult to predict by an international lawyer trained to see objects inside the borders of our understandings of the law, and it expected that those contributing will bring to light objects not anticipated by the editors themselves.

For more information, see Call for Papers here: Objects CFP


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