Course Syllabus in Progress: 20th Century Global History: International Crime and International Law

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a new Masters-level course on the history of international crime and international law that I will be teaching next semester. Comments or feedback are welcome!

The course description is:

“This course will examine the parallel rise of global international criminal networks and international legal systems to combat transnational illicit activity in the 20th century. Themes would include human trafficking, forced labour, narcotics, and money laundering alongside the international reform activism and diplomatic initiatives to create global legal responses to these issues. The course would encompass global and transnational historical methodology and develop students historiographical understanding of the interplay between black markets, social movements, and international relations.”

Session 1: International Law and International Crime as History

Session 2: How International is International Law?

  • Martti Koskenniemi, “Histories of International law: Dealing with Eurocentrism,” Rechtsgeschichte (2011).

Session 3: Globalization and Illicit Markets

  • Gilman et. al., Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century (2011).

Session 4: Global Systems (1) – Prohibition Regimes

  • Ethan A. Nadelmann, “Global Prohibition Regimes: The Evolution of Norms in International Society,” International Organization 44, no. 4 (1990).

Session 5: Global Systems (2) – Neo-Medievalism

  • Jörg Friedrichs, “The Neomedieval Renaissance: Global Governance and International Law in the New Middle Ages,” in Governance and International Legal Theory, eds. Dekker and Werner.

Session 6: Organized Crime as History

  • Cyrille Fijnaut, “Searching for Organized Crime in History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Organized Crime, ed. Letizia Paoli.
  • Edward Kleemans, “Criminal Organization and Transnational Crime,” in Histories of International Crime, ed. Gerben Bruinsma (2015).

Session 7: Migration (1) – White Slavery

  • Julia Laite, “Traffickers and Pimps in the Era of White Slavery,” Past and Present (2017)

 Session 8: Migration (2) – Human Trafficking

  • Marlou Schrover, “History of Slavery, Human Smuggling and Trafficking 1860–2010,” in Histories of International Crime, ed. Gerben Bruinsma (2015).

Session 9: Narcotics Trafficking (1) – Interwar Europe

  • Alan A. Block, “European Drug Traffic and Traffickers between the Wars: The Policy of Suppression and Its Consequences,” Journal of Social History 23, no. 2 (1989).

Session 10: Narcotics Trafficking (2) – Global South

  • Giovanni Molano Cruz, “A View from the South: The Global Creation of the War on Drugs,” Contexto Internacional 39, no. 3 (2017).

Session 10: Narcotics Trafficking (3) – Global Trade

  • Chantal Thomas, “Disciplining globalization: international law, illegal trade, and the case of narcotics,” Michigan Journal of International Law (2002).

Session 11: International Finance (1) – Counterfeiting

  • David Petrucelli, “Banknotes from the Underground: Counterfeiting and the International Order in Interwar Europe,” Journal of Contemporary History (2015).

Session 12: International Finance (2) – Offshore Money

  • Vanessa Ogle, “Archipelago Capitalism: Tax Havens, Offshore Money, and the State, 1950s–1970s,” The American Historical Review 122, no. 5 (2017).

Session 13: International Terrorism (1) – Assassinations

  • Ben Saul, “The Legal Response of the League of Nations to Terrorism,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 4, no. 1 (2006).

Session 14: International Terrorism (2) – Hijacking

  • Joseph Slaughter, “Hijacking Human Rights: Neoliberalism, the New Historiography, and the End of the Third World,” Human Rights Quarterly 40 (2018).

Global History of Human Rights since 1750 – An Annotated Syllabus

Since it’s human rights day, I thought I would share my syllabus for an undergrad seminar that I’m currently teaching at the University of Erfurt on the history of human rights. I’ve added some shot explanations of the logic behind the readings chosen for each week. Feel free to comment, critique or borrow liberally!

Session 1: Human Rights and History

General overview of the course matter (it’s the first day so it’s all pretty broad)

Session 2: Genealogies of Human Rights

  • Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, “Genealogies of Human Rights,” in Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, ed. SL Hoffmann Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 1–28.

This is a dense first reading, but it provides a good sense of the scope of the field and lets students see the variety of themes we will be dealing with over the length of the course. In Germany, where seminars put an emphasis on historiography, it’s a great primer.

Session 3: 18th Century Revolutions

  • Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, London: Norton, 2008. Chapter 3 pp. 113-145.

Hunt’s book provides an example of a teleological progress narrative of human rights beginning with the 18th century and the Enlightenment, and it introduces students to the history of emotions as a methodology.

Session 4: Unequal Revolutions (1)

  • Joan Wallach Scott. “French Feminists and the Rights of ‘Man’: Olympe de Gouges’s Declarations.” History Workshop 28 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 1-21.

I’ve got two lessons that are set up as a counter-point to progress narratives of the 18th century in order to center contemporary critics and to understand different forms of exclusion. Scott’s work delves into the exclusion of women from full citizenship and universalism and it also provides an introduction to gender theory. Continue reading

The Memorial Needles of Erfurt: It’s Hard to Please Everyone

Denknadel Plaque

In Germany and around the world, the last residence of persecuted Jews and other victims of Nazi terror are marked by small brass bricks called Stolpersteine – Stumbling Stones. There are more than 70,000 of these 10 by 10 cm stones installed in cobblestoned and paved sidewalks all made by hand by the artist Gunter Demnig who began the project back in 1992. It has now become common for many in Germany to mark the 9th of November – the anniversary of Kristallnacht – and the 27th of January – Holocaust Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz – by polishing local Stolpersteine.

stolperstein ketchup

Stolpersteine are easy to clean using only expired ketchup and a toothbrush

While the Stolpersteine are ubiquitous across Germany, there are a few exceptions. The city of Munich banned the installation of new Stolpersteine in 2015 after claims that they were disrespectful of the dead, whose names were walked on by the living. In Erfurt, where I now work, the Stolpersteine are not banned, but instead the last known residence of Nazi victims is marked by a DenkNadel – a memorial needle. The civic group Erfurter GeDenken called for proposals in 2007 to create a uniquely Erfurt commemoration for the victims of Nazi terror and local artist Sophie Hollmann won the competition with her design: a silver cone topped by an orange ball as if it was a giant pushpin pressed into the street to mark the spot. The first set of DenkNadel were installed on November 9, 2009 with five more installed in the following years across the city.

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New Book Review: Communism Day-to-Day by Sandrine Kott

Kott Communism day to day


I have a new book review of Sandrine Kott’s Communism Day-to-Day: State Enterprises in East German Society out today with H-German.

From the introduction of the review:
In Communism Day-to-Day, Sandrine Kott explores the history of the everyday in state enterprises based in East Berlin. Published originally in 2001 in French and now available in English translation for the first time, Kott’s work stemmed from the wave of critical work seeking to move beyond totalitarian interpretations of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the late 1990s. Building on the everyday history—Alltagsgeschichte— approaches to the history of East Germany pioneered by Thomas Lindenberger and others at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung (ZZF) in Potsdam, Kott seeks to find the limitations and contradictions of state power and society in the GDR through the lens of East Berlin work-places.

You can read the whole review here

The Leipzig Affair: A Discussion with Author Fiona Rintoul

Naschmarkt Leizpig 1986

Author Fiona Rintoul and a friend in Leipzig, East Germany. © Fiona Rintoul, 1986

Today’s post is an online conversation between myself and Fiona Rintoul, the author of the historical fiction novel The Leipzig Affair. It is the story of Robert, a Scottish student who travels to the GDR in 1985, where he meets Magda, a young East German looking to escape. As a fan of the book, I had the chance to speak with Fiona – an accomplished journalist and translator, in addition to her literary talents – about fiction, history, and the Stasi.

Ned Richardson-Little: When writing a work of history, you are ultimately bound by the texts and artifacts of the era that make up your source base. While you have a greater freedom to go beyond this as a fiction writer, how do you see the constraints of history as you write about this era?

Fiona Rintoul: When you are writing a novel that is grounded in a particular time and place, I think you have a responsibility to make sure it is authentic, especially if you are writing about events that were traumatic for many people. The characters and events in The Leipzig Affair are fictional, but real people in the former GDR suffered the kinds of problems and injustices that my characters endure. Therefore, I did feel it was important to get the details right.

Karl Marx Relief

Karl Marx University in Leipzig, East Germany © Fiona Rintoul, 1986

At the same time, the book is a work of fiction, and there is truth and fictional truth, and they are not quite the same. A story has to work as a story regardless of what actually happened to actual people. I think a writer can allow themselves some freedom to create their own reality within their chosen setting – as long as the story remains authentic. If there are lots of things that are just plain wrong, then you lose credibility and your story becomes a bit of an insult to people who lived through the period you’re describing. However, I don’t think you need to check the location of every lamppost. I’m reminded of a story my husband tells about WG Sebald, who allegedly received a letter from a reader saying the clock in Antwerp station is on the left of the departure board in one of his books when in fact it’s on the right. Apparently, he wrote back and said, ‘In my book, it’s on the left.’

I think that’s fair enough. It’s not fair enough to misrepresent people’s experiences. For a long time, I hesitated to write the book because I’m not East German. However, after spending time in Berlin on a journalists’ exchange and seeing how much tension and lack of understanding there was between East and West Germans, I came to the conclusion that an outsider might actually be the best person to write this book. After it was published, I received an email for an elderly woman in Dresden thanking me for writing it and saying she appreciated that I’m neither an Ossi nor a Wessi. That’s still my favourite review ever.

NRL: I’ve had similar responses as a Canadian writing about East German history. After one seminar, I was told that it was a relief that we didn’t have to discuss my family’s role on either side of the Wall before getting down to actually debating the merits of a historical argument. Not that I actually am inherently objective about this subject, but there was a sense that being an outsider made it easier to talk about certain sensitive subjects. In the case of your book, you also seem to be balancing the use of an outsider perspective through one of your protagonists – a Scot who is encountering the GDR for the first time and is written in the first person – but at the same time, the other protagonist is East German and is written in the second person.

FR: Yes, writing the story of Magda, the East German protagonist, in the second person, was quite an important choice. For reasons that I can’t entirely explain, using the second person really helped me to get inside her head and to stop worrying about not being East German myself. I’ve written about why I think the second person was the right choice for Magda’s voice elsewhere. I think writing in the second person did also put me at a little bit of remove from her – almost as if I were a Stasi agent watching her – which somehow helped. And, yes, you’re right, meanwhile I could put across the outsider’s perspective on the GDR through Robert.

Downtown Leipzig in 1986

NRL: When telling this story, did you see yourself as a vehicle for a factual recounting of what occurred in the GDR or is the act of fiction writing, even when writing about a historical era, more concerned with a broader truth? Continue reading

From Stauffenberg to PEGIDA: How the Far Right Adopted the Flag of the Anti-Hitler Resistance.

Kundgebung Pegida in Dresden

PEGIDA rally in 2015

On July 20, 1944 – 73 years ago today –  Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg carried out a plot to assassinate Hitler with a bomb. The attack failed and Stauffenberg along with several dozen military and conservative elites involved were arrested, tortured and executed.

Since WWII, the bomb plot has been an important part of Germany’s political culture – Stauffenberg and the plotters are seen as evidence that not all Germans supported the Nazis and that within the elite there were still men who represented the traditional values of the nation and were willing to die for this. This interpretation is contested, but within the public sphere, commemoration of the plotters and their efforts is a touchstone of mainstream German politics.

widerstand monument

Memorial to the German Resistance in Berlin

All of this makes it puzzling that the flag of the conservative anti-Hitler resistance has become a symbol of the far right in recent years.

Wirmer flag

The Wirmer flag was designed by Josef Wirmer as the flag for the new Germany in 1944. Wirmer was a lawyer who had worked in the social left-wing of the Catholic Center Party before the Nazi seizure of power. The flag combined the red, black, gold of the Weimar (and modern) German flag along with the cross to emphasize the importance of Christianity. Wirmer himself was executed in September 1944 in connection with the July 20th plot.

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