Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pedersen, Back to the League of Nations, in the AHR

Susan Pedersen, Columbia University, has a review essay, Back to the League of Nations, in the most recent issue of the American Historical Review. Here's how editor Robert A. Schneider describes it:
Noting that the study of international networks and organizations has, with the rise of transnational and global history, experienced something of a renaissance, she explores how this scholarship has revised and expanded our appreciation of the significance of the League of Nations. Although founded as a security pact, the League was charged with many other tasks as well: to protect minority populations in many of the new or newly-established states in 1919; to oversee the administration of conquered Ottoman and German territories granted to the Allies under mandate; and to craft international agreements to combat or manage disease, refugees, drugs and other cross-boarder traffic or hazards. Pedersen surveys the extensive scholarly literature that deals with these varied efforts of the League, showing how they not only provided the foundation for later agreements but also inaugurated or strengthened many of the institutions and conventions that govern international society today. The international bureaucracies, transnational lobbies, petition processes, and publicity mechanisms operating in Geneva between the wars had a lasting imprint on future global institutions and practices.
And from Pedersen:
The works resulting from this research have enabled us to come to a better understanding of this much-misunderstood international organization. In contrast to a postwar historiography inclined to view the League from the standpoint of 1933 or 1939, the relevant question now is not “why the League failed” but rather the more properly historical question of what it did and meant over its twenty-five-year existence. We are now able to sketch out three different but not mutually exclusive narratives of the League, one still focused largely (if less pessimistically) on its contribution to peacekeeping, but the other two concerned more with its work delimiting, and to a degree managing, the shifting boundaries between state power and international authority in this period. If one considers its work in stabilizing new states and running the minorities protection and mandates systems, the League appears as a key agent in the transition from a world of formal empires to a world of formally sovereign states. By contrast, if one notes its efforts to regulate cross-border traffics or problems of all kinds, it emerges rather as a harbinger of global governance.
The essay is here.