In the Name of Humanity: The Laws of War in Global History, 1860s to the Present

History R1B

Fall 2018
121 Latimer
Day & Time: 
Tue/Thu 8–9:30am
Class Number: 
  • This course satisfies the second half of the Reading and Composition Requirement.
  • This course does not count for credit toward the History Major but may fulfill other requirements.
  • What are the laws of war and how have they changed since they first appeared on the global stage in the 1860s? How has moral feeling influenced the purview of such laws, and vice versa? What does it mean to wage a lawful war? This course aims to explore these questions. It offers an introduction to the history of attempts to regulate warfare and their current significance. Our explorations will range from the 1864 Geneva Conventions to current attempts to prohibit nuclear weapons; we will ponder law in armed conflict from the American Civil War to U.S. coalition air strikes in reaction to chemical warfare in Syria. Beyond a history of the norms guiding the laws of war, this course surveys the relationship between these norms and concurrent trends: the rise of nation-states and imperial ambition, accelerating technological change, and escalating destructiveness of warfare. Readings for this course include primary source documents as well as secondary historical scholarship. This course satisfies the second half of the university’s reading and composition requirement. We will develop your ability to read critically and write persuasively, skills that are central to a liberal arts education. The course will also introduce you to key concepts of the historian’s craft, including context, causality, change over time, and contingency. The first half of the course will require you to write a diagnostic paper and two brief essays. As a crucial aspect of the course is to familiarize students with the interconnection of thinking, writing, and rewriting, you will be required to revise each of those short essays. In the second half of the course, you will write a longer historical research essay, based on both primary and secondary sources.

    Elena Kempf is a PhD Candidate in the History Department. She is broadly interested in Legal History, the History of Human Rights, German History, and the intersection of law, morality, and technology. She is writing her dissertation on the history of weapons prohibitions in international humanitarian law. Elena received her B.A. in History from UC Berkeley in 2014.