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Call for Papers: Symposium on the Role of International Organizations in the Process of Decolonization

UN Headquarters

Photo: "United Nations General Assembly Hall in the UN Headquarters, New York" by Basil D. Soufi (Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0).

"International Organizations and Decolonization in Historical Perspective" is the topic of an international symposium that takes place on January 25-26, 2019 at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich. The event is jointly organized by the universities of Basel (Europainstitut), Sydney, and Munich. Scholars interested in presenting a paper can apply with an abstract until June 15, 2018.


Membership in the United Nations has almost quadrupled since its founding in 1945, with the vast majority of new states admitted over this period resulting from the collapse of European imperial regimes. The process of decolonization and the expansion of international organizations are among the most momentous developments in modern global history, yet their impact on one another has more often been posited than examined. The symposium asks what roles international organizations – both inter-governmental and non-governmental – have played in the process of decolonization and how the dissolution of European empires has in turn affected the development of international organizations. It questions the colonial-postcolonial divide in historical scholarship by examining continuities in personnel, expertise, and inequalities and inquires about the ways in which colonial frameworks and the legacies of decolonization continue to inform doctrines and practices of international organizations – for example in the fields of humanitarian relief or development assistance.

The goal is not so much comprehensiveness, but to showcase a variety of methodological approaches, subjects, historical dynamics, and timeframes. While the twentieth century has received the majority of scholarly attention, the symposium seeks to expand the chronology by also paying attention to earlier instances of international organizations affecting decolonization and vice versa, for example in the Latin American context. It further aims to move beyond the examination of more prominent bodies such as the League of Nations and the UN as well as their affiliated agencies in order to showcase other organizations of global reach, such as the Arab League or the International Organization for Migration. It seeks to learn about a variety of actors – colonial subjects, citizens of new states and (former) metropoles, government representatives, experts and volunteers – and examine not only political and economic but also social, cultural, legal, and environmental history. By providing a common focus on the global history of decolonization and international organizations, the proposed conference aims to bring together scholars from diverse regional and thematic subfields.

The conference invites proposals for papers that explore the role of international organizations as

  1. agents in the process decolonization;
  2. as hubs for the formation of both inter-imperial and anti-imperial alliances;
  3. as forums for negotiating the meaning and unfolding of decolonization.

Potential papers might ask how employees of international organizations – international civil servants, experts and volunteers – understood the process of decolonization and how they conceived of their own roles in that process. What role, if any, did people in dependent territories and metropoles assign to international organizations? And how did such conceptions change over time? Aside from exploring the different imaginaries of decolonization, the conference presents an opportunity to learn more about the actual functions performed by international organizations in both (former) colonies and metropoles leading up to, during, and after the formal transfer of political sovereignty – and how these interventions from abroad were affected or conditioned by developments on the ground. At the same time, the conference welcomes contributions that examine how the emergence of new states and non-state actors – such as national liberation movements – altered the work and shape of international organizations themselves.

Prof. Susan G. Pedersen (Department of History at Columbia University) is the keynote speaker at the symposium.

Scholars interested in presenting a paper at the symposium are invited to send a brief abstract of 250-300 words as well as a CV by June 15, 2018, to Eva-Maria Muschik at iosdecolonization@gmail.com. While limited travel and accommodation support is available, presenters will be encouraged to explore their own funding opportunities.