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Sovereignty and Statehood in Modern History

15 CATS for Term 2, 2023

Module Convenor: Anna RossLink opens in a new window

Module description
Sovereignty is a fundamental concept of political thought. Political theorists have long debated it, and references to it line the pages of constitutional law textbooks. But sovereignty has never been confined to academic deliberation. Throughout history, a whole range of people have made claims to juridical independence in everyday life. In this module, we turn to such sovereign claim-making in practice. We ask: To what extent are states sovereign? What other entities and individuals have sought a sovereign status? How has sovereignty been conceived of in projects of post imperial transition and decolonisation? And how has the creation of international institutions, like the League of Nations and UN, recast state sovereignty?

In this 15 CATS second-year module we will explore sovereign claim-making in practice from the Congress of Vienna to the United Nations. We will look at a range of primary sources which familiarise students with the individual actors who made sovereign claims in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, their methods for doing so, and the effects of changing sovereignty. For students interested in institutions such as the League of Nations and United Nations, there will be plenty of material on these topics, and opportunities to engage in their archival holdings.

1. Sovereignty: A Problem.

2. The Congress of Vienna and the Invention of International Order?

3. How to Buy a Country: Europe’s Rogue Empires in Africa, 1882-1885

4. WWI and Sovereignty at the League of Nations

5. Minority Treaties, Mandates, and International Zones


7. WWII and Sovereignty at the United Nations

8. The UN, National Self-determination, and its Variants, 1950s-1960s

9. Decolonisation and The Creation of An Offshore World

10. Deepening Sovereignty in the Post-Colonial World


Students are required to pick one book from the module bibliography and critically assess it in a book review for an academic or popular outlet eg the London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, a blog you follow etc. Examples will be provided in class.

  • 3000 Word Essay (50%)

A research essay based on a wide reading of primary and secondary sources. The convenor will provide students with a list of potential titles, or students can devise their own titles so long as they are approved in writing with the convenor.

All readings can be found on Talis

All lectures can be found on lecture capture on Moodle

Indicative Reading List

Sovereignty as Concept
J. Sheehan, 'The Problem of Sovereignty in European History', The American Historical Review 111(2006), 1-15
H. Kalmo and Q. Skinner, Sovereignty in Fragments: The Past, Present, and Future of a Contested Concept (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)
D. Grimm and B. Cooper, Sovereignty: The Origin and Future of a Political and Legal Concept (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015)
D. Philpott, Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001)
G. Feindt, B. Gißibl, and J. Paulmann, Kulturelle Souveränität. Politische Deutungs- und Handlungsmacht jenseits des Staates im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprrecht, 2016)

Sovereignty in Practice
Glenda Sluga, The Invention of International Order: Remaking Europe after Napoleon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021)
Vick, Brian. The Congress of Vienna. Power and Politics after Napoleon (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014)
Carsten Stahn, Law and Practice of International Territorial Administration: Versailles to Iraq and Beyond (Cambridge: CUP, 2008)
Constantin Ardelenau, The European Commission of the Danube, 1856-1948: An Experiment in International Administration (Brill, 2020)
Steven Press, Rogue Empires: Contracts and Conmen in Europe’s Scramble for Africa (Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 2017)
Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (Cambridge: CUP, 2005)
Lauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 (Cambridge: CUP, 2009)
Mary Dewhurst Lewis, Divided Rule: Sovereignty and Empire in French Tunisia, 1881-1938 (California: University of California Press, 2013)
A. Fitzmaurice, Sovereignty, Property and Empire, 1500-2000 (Cambridge: CUP, 2014)
Leonard V. Smith, Sovereignty at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (Oxford: OUP, 2018)
Ezra Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: OUP, 2007)
Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: OUP, 2015)
Dominique Kirchner Reill, The Fiume Crisis (Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 2020)
Andrezej Jakubowski, State Succession in Cultural Property (Oxford: OUP, 2015)
Mira L. Siegelberg, Statelessness: A Modern History (Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 2020)
Sebastian Gehrig, Legal Entanglements: Law, Rights, and the Battle for Legitimacy in the Two Germanys, 1949-1990 (Berghahn, 2021)
Vanessa Ogle, ‘’Funk Money’: The End of Empires, the Expansion of Tax Havens, and Decolonization as an Economic and Financial Event’, Past & Present 249 (2020), pp. 213-249.
Vanessa Ogle, 'Archipelago Capitalism: Tax Havens, Offshore Money, and the State, 1950s-1970s,' American Historical Review 122 (2017): 1431-1458.

Examples of Primary Sources and Source Depositories
Metternich's Europe, 1813–48, ed. by Mack Walker (1968)
League of Nations archives and e-resources:
UN digital archives and objects:

Photographs of the Polish-German frontier in Upper Silesia after WWI. P stands for Poland. D stands for Germany. See more images from Biblioteka Śląska at: