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Introduction to the course

Introduction to week1
In 1919, delegates from all over the world gathered in Paris to negotiate a peace to end all wars. For the previous four years the first World War had raged across the globe, taking and devastating the lives of millions. But now, it had ended, at last. And there was a sense of optimism in the air. “Many terrible things have come out of this war,” said American President Woodrow Wilson, before adding, “but some very beautiful things have come out of it too.” Here, in the chapel of the University of Glasgow you get a sense for just how destructive World War I was. It brought unprecedented suffering to an unprecedented number of victims.
It changed warfare forever, but it also changed our approach to ending wars.
The Paris Peace Conference, at which the Treaty of Versailles and other treaties with the defeated powers were prepared, sought to build a new and a more just world order. My name is Christian Tams. I’m a professor of international law here at the University of Glasgow. And over the course of the next three weeks I’m looking forward to exploring with you to what extent the conference succeeded in building such a new world order. As a professor of international law I spend a lot of time studying international crises, military conflicts, but also threats to global health. In all these challenges we expect international organisations, such as the United Nations to make a difference.
I always tell my students that in order to understand how international organisations work today, we have to understand how they came to be. And in this process the Paris Peace Conference was a milestone. The conference was a remarkable event. The whole world met at Paris, it was said. Leading statesmen of the day were there. And in particular the big three, the American President Woodrow Wilson, the French President Georges Clemenceau, and the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Delegations of states included prominent thinkers, academics, and advisors such as Lawrence of Arabia and John Maynard Keynes, the economist.
But the conference also attracted interest groups, early NGOs, trade unionists, Zionists, suffragettes, and pacifists, not to mention hundreds of journalists ready to send news of its developments around the world. Yet many people today, if they’ve heard of the Paris Peace Conference at all are very sceptical about its outcomes. Instead of a peace to end all wars, it’s considered widely as a recipe for a future wars. And here you see some of the incriminating evidence. Take this photo. It shows a mass rally in Berlin, outside the Reichstag. Germans protesting against what they considered to be the unfair terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Or take this map. This map of postwar Europe and have a look at the size of Hungary.
Now the prewar borders of Hungary are marked in yellow here. Hungary was a large area, stretching all the way into what is now Slovakia, parts of Poland, Romania, and what would then be Yugoslavia after the war. Now in 1919, Hungary was reduced to more or less its present day borders, about a third of its size. And again you can see why people would protest against that. Or take, finally, the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. Let’s take this new story, which, the title is telling. “Why border lines drawn with a ruler in WWI still rock the Middle East.” If these were the results of a new world order, the Paris Peace Conference must have got it terribly wrong.
And in fact, two thinkers who otherwise don’t agree on very much seemed to be of that view. The formal US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the historian Eric Hobsbawn. Hobsbawn, in his book, The Age of Extremes, has this to say about the Paris outcomes. He calls them, “a penal-dictated peace what drew in what little chances there were of restoring something even faintly like a stable, liberal, bourgeois Europe.” And then to Kissinger, the conference marked a fragile compromise between US utopianism and European paranoia. With the benefit of hindsight it’s always easy to criticise. But the summary dismissals of Kissinger and of Hobsbawn, are perhaps, a little too confident.
Over the next three weeks we will not ignore the mistakes made at Paris in 1919, but we will try to look beyond them. We’ll get a sense of the spirit of Paris. Of sometimes naive and sometimes noble hopes of those who genuinely tried to make the world a better place. We see how the vision still has resonance today and how it continues to inspire people around the globe. From human rights campaigners to environmental activists to statesmen trying to build a lasting peace. To do all that we’re going to follow in the footsteps of those who made that original journey, nearly 100 years ago. We’re going to see where these decisions were made. We’re off to Paris.

World War 1 changed the world’s approach to wars, but it also led to a new approach to ending wars. In this video, Christian visits the Memorial Chapel of the University of Glasgow and introduces the themes of the course.

Below is some information on the team of educators and mentors on this course. You can use the links to access their profiles, and follow them to see their comments.

We have also added below a list of optional additional readings for Week 1, should you wish to read further on this subject.

Christian Tams (educator):

Christian is professor of international law at the University of Glasgow. Before coming to Scotland, he worked and studied in Germany, France and England. At Glasgow, Christian directs the Law School’s masters programme in international law. He is interested in questions of international law, especially relating to the United Nations and international courts. He has advised States in international litigation, eg before the International Court of Justice, and is a member of the German Court of Arbitration for Sports. He likes good books, in particular naval fiction, and supports a once-mighty football club, the Hamburger Sport-Verein. He was recently the lead educator in another FutureLearn course, Right vs Might in International Relations.

University of Glasgow Profile

Athene Richford (Mentor):

Athene did her LLM in international law in 2011-12 and is currently a postgraduate research student and part time research assistant in the law school at the University of Glasgow. She is just about to start her PhD, which explores how international trade and labour matters interact within their respective international institutions. Whilst her particular area of interest is, broadly, international trade law she is a keen theorist and takes a generalist approach when it comes to international law with a soft spot for international legal regimes of all kinds.

Athene is excited to be working on this project and looking forward to what she thinks will be very interesting discussions generated by the thought provoking and informative subject matter. She is particularly keen to hear from you all and looks forward to the diversity of educational and professional backgrounds that we have taking this online course.

James Devaney (Mentor):

James is a former University of Glasgow student now doing a PhD at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. His research is on international courts and tribunals but he is interested in all areas of international law. Having worked on a number of other projects at Glasgow as a research assistant in the past, James is really looking forward to taking part in the course as he thinks it’s a really exciting idea. He will be trying to help you with any questions you have throughout the next three weeks.

Alessandra Asteriti (Mentor):

Dr. Alessandra Asteriti is a post-doctoral research associate in international law at the University of Glasgow School of Law. She has an MA (summa cum laude) in Ancient History from the University of Rome, an MA in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights from the University of Essex and a Ph.D. in International Law from the University of Glasgow. She has worked as an archaeologist in Syria (Tell Mozan) and in Rome (Temple of the Magna Mater). After completing her law studies, she has taught at the University of Strathclyde, the Lucerne Academy for Human Rights Implementation at the University of Lucerne and Leuphana University in Lüneburg.

Ricardo Lira (Mentor):

After doing a BA in International Relations at ITESM (Monterrey, Mexico), and a MA in International Affairs at the Australian National University, Ricardo joined the Department of Politics at the University of Glasgow as a PhD student in 2011. His broad research interest is on international issues. His thesis is a revisionist history of the origins of International Relations (IR) as a specialised discipline. Ricardo joins other critical historians of the subject who argue that the early stage of the field (i.e. the interwar years) is oversimplified if described merely as idealist. As a result, the Paris Peace Conference (1919) and the experiment of the League of Nations are of paramount importance to him. Ricardo is very much looking forward to working with the course team on what promises to be a fascinating course.

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World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World Order?

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