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Research conducted in this project explores the historical and contemporary relationship between public international law, colonialism, and Dutch Empire from a critical perspective. While extensive and profound research is done on the role of British and Spanish Empire in the making of international law, this research is much less advanced with respect to Dutch empire and its role in the formation of the colonialist legacy of (European) international law.

A first line of research builds on extensive research and publications on Hugo Grotius. Early modern international law developed inter alia in relation to the expansion of Dutch (commercial) empire. The project ‘Reading Grotius between Promise and Failure: International Law and the Human Conscience’ aims to develop an in-depth analysis of the conception of human conscience underpinning the early modern development of international law through the work of Hugo Grotius. As such, it aims to probe the origins of contemporary understandings of the relationship between international law and the human conscience. While a critical international legal history project, it will also ask how this relationship operates as a foundation for contemporary international law and international legal thought and thus for how we shape our world.

A second line of research resolves around Dutch colonisation and decolonisation in the making of (European) international law. With ‘Marked Absences: Locating Gender and Race in International Legal History’, a first publication was realised and a basic research agenda has been laid down. By examining the relationship between international law and Dutch empire from the late 19th century to the present, this project aims to deepen current understandings of the way international legal institutions, practices, and narratives have shaped specifically Dutch ideas about and structures of international law and governance. And, in turn, how Dutch ideas about international law and governance have contributed to the shaping of international institutions, practices, and narratives.

The project aims to host PhD candidates who are interested in conducting (socio-legal) research on the practice of international and colonial law and politics in Dutch empire, on the conflicts evoked, and on the Dutch contribution to the making of international law through its legal argumentations on Dutch colonisation and decolonisation.

It is inter-disciplinary in its collaboration ambitions. Seeking dialogue with historians, philosophers, (legal-)sociologists, and theologians. While public international lawyers have neglected the analyses of the relationship between international law and Dutch empire, scholars from the aforementioned disciplines have done crucial work on Dutch empire.

Selected research output

  • Randall Lesaffer and Janne E. Nijman (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Grotius (CUP, 2021).
  • Ius Gentium et Naturae: The Human Conscience and Early Modern International Law’. In: Slotte, P. & Haskell, J. (eds.), Christianity and International Law: An Introduction (‘Law and Christianity’ Series), (CUP, 2021) 153-176.
  • ‘An Enlarged Sense of Possibility for International Law. Seeking Change by Doing History’, in: Ingo Venzke & Kevin Jon Heller (Eds), Contingency in the Course of International Law: How International Law Could Have Been (OUP, 2021) 92-107.
  • ‘Marked Absences: Locating Gender and Race in International Legal History’, 31(3) European Journal of International Law (2020): 1025–1050.
  • ‘Grotius’ “Rule of Law” and the Human Sense of Justice: An Afterword to Martti Koskenniemi’s Foreword’, 40(3) European Journal of International Law (2019): 1105-1114.
  • Law and Governance of a global city: 17th-century Amsterdam’, 28 and 29 October 2021, workshop (in person and online) co-organised together with Tilburg University and the Maastricht University, Roetserseiland Campus, Amsterdam.


Since 2022

Prof. dr. mr. J.E. (Janne) Nijman

Professor of History and Theory of International Law