My research looks at how modern international law was created in the 19th century, how it came to be applied across the globe and what that meant for international politics.
I have just published a book called Power, Law and the End of Privateering with Palgrave Macmillan, which explains why the 1856 Declaration of Paris marks a forgotten turning point in this story, inventing the main method we still use today to create new international law. It also highlights how its rules were enforced successfully in the major wars of the second half of the 19th century, before it was dismantled at the beginning of the First World War.
My postdoctoral project is called ‘Why is killing civilians bad? The history of a modern debate, 1848-1915’ and is an inquiry into when and why the idea that killing civilians was not only deplorable but illegal became a global norm. Humanitarian intervention was not invented in the 1990s, but we know very little about its 19th century precedents.
The aim of my research is to find out how this new norm was created and enforced, and why it spread so quickly beyond Europe. While the new rule for protecting civilians was never applied by any imperial power in its colonial policing, it did ultimately spell the end for ‘gunboat diplomacy’. Starting with the outrage against the brutal repression of the 1848 revolutions, I will show how our modern notions of ‘war crimes’ were formed.