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About the conference

The First World War left Europe physically destroyed and grappling with a legacy of violence. At the same time it offered fertile ground for new imaginations of what constituted a durable peace. The meaning of peace came to embrace reform of domestic and international relations and socialand welfare policies. It also meant the application of the principle of nationality and the establishment of international organisations that could replace the discredited balancing of the European great and imperial powers that had failed so miserably to stop the outbreak of the war. 

International organisations, established by states, were not a new innovation. From the mid-19th century, numerous organisations were set up responding to technological innovation and the perceived need for economic modernisation. They focused on technical aspects, often convinced this cooperation would make war impossible, and shaped the establishment and functioning of new international organisations long after 1918. However, from 1918 the notion that a new universal international organisation also dealing with the question of security and economic cooperation would be at the centre of the new international and European order supposed to ensure peace became pivotal. If this new political order ultimately would unravel from 1929 onwards when confronted with economic and political crisis, the aftermath of the Second World War witnessed a similar understanding of the role of international organisations at the centre of a lasting peace in Europe and the world. In fact, international and in particular regional organisations in Western Europe would lay the groundwork for an ongoing transformation of European politics and societies after 1945.

This conference intends to analyse international organisations as one general historical phenomenon in this broad perspective. The conference will cover the period from 1918 to the 1970s and thus include both the interwar period as well as the first three decades of the post-war period.

While research in the history of international organisations has grown significantly in the last twodecades, it is striking how few attempts there have been made to synthesise this new research into a broader understanding of the nature and role of international organisations in twentieth century European history. The aim here is to take a first step towards developing a research agenda for analysing the history of international organisations as a general phenomenon. This will be done by taking international organisations formally established by states as the object of study and apply a comparative approach. Each international organisation covered by this conference will be analysed across four dimensions. Firstly, why did national governments decide to establish international organisations? Why did they design them in particular ways and how did they interact with them once they were up and running? The history of the formation and ensuing development of international organisations will therefore be explored with a focus on the role of national governments, parliaments and administrations. Secondly, international organisations were crucial in developing new types of international standards and even law. The role of international organisations as producers of various sorts of agendas, formal decisions, legislation and international law will consequently be analysed. Thirdly, recent research has demonstrated the multifaceted ways international organisations were embedded at transnational, national and local evel. Networks and the circulation of experts were often decisive to the way international organisations were run and the impact they had and this needs to be explored. Finally, what precise national policy fields were developed under the influence of international organisations and what impact they had on the populations, remains a crucial question, which warrants further exploration.

It is our aim that the comparison of these four key dimensions will yield new insights into the nature and the role of international organisations in the period. 

List of speakers

  • Johan Schot (University of Sussex)
  • Leonard Laborie (CNRS)
  • Susan Pedersen (Columbia University)
  • Sandrine Kott (Université de Genève)
  • Thomas G. Weiss (The City University of New York)
  • Poul Duedahl (Aalborg University)
  • Linda Risso (University of Reading) 
  • Slawomir Lotysz (University of Zielona Góra)
  • Sigfrido Ramirez (University of Copenhagen)
  • Matthias Schmelzer (Université de Genève)
  • Birte Wassenberg (Université de Strasbourg)
  • Brigitte Leucht (University of Copenhagen)
  • Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen)
  • Wolfram Kaiser (University of Portsmouth)


  • Patricia Clavin (University of Oxford) 
  • Kiran Patel (Maastricht University)
  • Poul Fritz Kjær (Copenhagen Business School)
  • Daniel Maul (Aarhus University)
  • Karen Gram-Skjoldager (Aarhus University)

The conference is open to the public, and we invite scholars and students with an interest in the field to join us. See more under "Registration".