Elena Kempf

PhD Candidate

Late Modern Europe

Research Interests

I am a historian of international law and modern Germany in global perspective.

 My dissertation explores the history of weapons prohibitions in international law from the 1860s to the 1920s. I study the moral, medical, and political making of the legal boundary between acceptable and unacceptable weapons. I also trace the meanings of treaty-based weapons prohibitions as they became moral signposts in times of war. By analyzing sources from national archives, the League of Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, university archives, and historical newspaper collections, I show how the rise of weapons prohibitions reflected and shaped a world that made moral distinctions between different weapons while acquiescing to war as an instrument of state policy.

 At Berkeley, I have taught a seminar on the laws of war, and served as an assistant for The History and Practice of Human Rights (twice), Global Society, Berlin in the Twentieth Century, and Death, Dying, and Modern Medicine. I am also an active member and former organizer of Der Kreis, the UC Berkeley working group for German history and culture.



UC Berkeley, 2014–2020 (expected), Ph.D. in History

Examination fields: Late Modern European History, American Legal History, International Legal Theory (passed with distinction)

 UC Berkeley, 2014–2015, M.A. in History

 UC Berkeley, 2011–2014, B.A. in History (Highest Honors in History; High Distinction in General Scholarship)


Selected Presentations

“Civilization as a Concept of Transgression in International Weapons Law in the 1920s,” Law and Society Association Junior Scholars Workshop, Washington, D.C., May 28–29, 2019.

 “Beyond Violation: The Laws of War in German History, 1860s–1918,” German Historical Institute West Workshop, University of Southern California, April 6, 2019.

 “(In)humane Bullets: The Prohibition of Dum-Dum Bullets from Tübingen to the Trenches,” Berkeley-Max Planck Institute Graduate Student Conference, Berlin, June 19–20, 2018.

 “Grenzen der Grausamkeit: Waffenverbote im Kriegsvölkerrecht, 1868–Gegenwart,” Colloquium zur Zeitgeschichte, Free University Berlin, April 19, 2018.



Selected Fellowships and Awards

2014–Present: Berkeley Fellowship for Graduate Study

 2019–2020: Townsend Dissertation Fellowship

 2018–2019: Berkeley Empirical Legal Studies Graduate Fellowship

 2018–2019: IIS Simpson Fellowship in International and Comparative Studies

 2018: IES Gerald D. and Norma Feldman Graduate Student Dissertation Fellowship

 2017: Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award

 2011–2015: German National Academic Foundation Scholarship (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes)


Teaching Appointments at UC Berkeley


Fall 2018: “In the Name of Humanity: The Laws of War in Global History, 1860–Present”


Teaching Assistant

Spring 2019: “Global Society: International Organizations, NGOs, and Social Movements in the Twentieth Century”

 Spring 2017: “Death, Dying, and Modern Medicine”

 Fall 2016 and Fall 2015: “The History and Practice of Human Rights”

 Summer 2016: “Exploring the Liberal Arts” (Online)

 Spring 2015: “Berlin and the Twentieth Century”


Curriculum Vitae