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Researching the History of International Law

International law scholars have always been interested in the historical development of their subject. In part this is so because the historical evolution of international law doctrine continues to influence its current understanding and application. But it is also true that the historical approach simply reflects the inherent interest of studying international law from that perspective.

The Law Library has many resources that are potentially quite useful to international law historians. First and foremost, the Library has a substantial collection of books on international law dating back to the mid-19th century. Many of them were originally purchased by the Wells Library, but transferred to the Law Library collection in the mid-1990s. These books can easily be located in IUCAT by means of an Advanced Keyword Search. For example, you might search for the subject keywords “international law” combined with a publication date range of 1850-1935 in order to get an overview of the Library’s older collection of international law monographs. Of course, more specific subject terms are also available. For example, you might use the subject keywords “Hague Peace Conference” to find books in the collection about the 1907 2nd Hague Peace Conference. Remember that IUCAT searches default to All Bloomington Libraries, and that you will need to change the default in order to search just the Law Library’s collection.

The Library also has several databases that would be useful to anyone researching topics in international law history. First, the Library recently subscribed to HeinOnline’s History of International Law Library. This database provides access to more than 725 titles (mostly monographs) and 600,000 pages dating back to 1690. The database can be browsed by broad categories, such as war & peace, international arbitration, law of the sea, and Hague conferences and conventions. Standard HeinOnline field and advanced search templates are also available to search title words, full-text terms, etc.  Second, the Encyclopedia of Public International Law has a broad subject heading, “History of International Law”, which is assigned currently to 96 articles. An Advanced Search template permits one to combine this subject heading with full-text or title words to zero in more precisely on desired articles.

In addition to these databases, the Library also subscribes to several general databases with content relevant to the history of international law. For example, the Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926, documents the development of American and English law during the 19th century, including the development of international law doctrine. LLMC Digital also includes a number of 19th and early 20th century international law treatises.

Finally, the Library has recently subscribed to The Making of Modern Law: Foreign, Comparative, and International Law, 1600-1926, which will become available this summer. Its international law component features works of some of the great legal theorists, including Gentili, Grotius, Selden, Zouche, Pufendorf, Bijnkershoek, Wolff, Vattel, Martens, Mackintosh, and Wheaton, among others. Like other components of the Making of Modern Law series, this collection is drawn from the Harvard Law School Library, the Yale Law Library, and the Law Library of Congress.

When using these electronic resources, you should keep in mind that all titles in LLMC Digital, the Making of Modern Law Series, and the HeinOnline History of International Law Library are included in IUCAT, meaning that you can search for content either in IUCAT or using the individual database search interfaces. However, if you want to use IUCAT just to search for printed works in the collection, you can do that by constructing an Advanced Keyword Search that excludes any record containing the keyword “electronic.”


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