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CfH Lectures


This lecture is introduced by prof. dr. Wiljan van den Akker.

Inaugural lecture delivered by Prof. Martti Koskenniemi on 16 November 2011 on the occasion of accepting the Treaty of Utrecht Chair at Utrecht University.

Münster and Osnabrück are small German towns in today’s North-Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony. They provide the setting for the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the single most important event in the history of international law. Though recent scholarship suggests that the story of modern international law beginning at Westphalia is simply a “myth”,1 it remains central to the historiography of the field. It was then that international law emerged as a law of “states” that could be thought of as “legal subjects” or “persons” distinct from their rulers of elite groups. It was to be followed by other events and other locations: Utrecht, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Geneva. Looking for origins of a law among sovereigns we focus on Europe’s towns, its wars and revolutions, Bodin, Grotius and Thomas Hobbes. The histories of jus gentium, natural law, and the law of nations, Völkerrecht and Droit public de l’Europe are centred upon Europe; they adopt a European vocabulary of “progress” and “modernity”. The key distinctions between “political” and “economic”, “secular” and “religious” as well as “private” and “public” are part of the European mindset. Even as colonialism has now become an important subject of international law’s history, it still remains the case that “Europe rules as the silent referent of historical knowledge”. 2 This is true not only of the materials of the narrative but of the standards of legal historiography itself. What kind of history of international law would it be that made no reference to the “fall of the Roman empire” or to the rise of Protestantism? European stories, myths and metaphors continue to set the conditions for understanding international law’s past as it does for outlining its futures. When did this begin?

The Treaty of Utrecht Chair programme was founded to highlight the relevance of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) in current European and international perspective. Central in this programme are social sustainability, cultural diversity, dialogue, respect for each other, mediation, tolerance, inspiration and diplomacy. The Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713 and is considered to be the commencement of modern diplomacy. This treaty marked the end of almost two centuries of (religious) wars and conflicts. In 1713 the rich and festive offer of art and cultural activities in Utrecht was the binding factor between the different cultures of the diplomats and negotiators, which brought them closer and made the signing of the Treaty easier. The Treaty of Utrecht Chair is an initiative of the Province of Utrecht and is sponsored by Utrecht University, the Treaty of Utrecht Organisation and the Province of Utrecht. The Chair is hosted by the Centre for the Humanities of the Faculty of Humanities, Utrecht University.