All current projects of the section History of International Relations. 

Fighting Pandemics from Below: Global North-South Public Health Cooperation in the Middle East and North Africa, 1792-1942

This project recaptures the lost archives and historical knowledge of international public health cooperation between the ‘global north’ and the ‘global south’ by analysing its first and longest-lasting instances: the sanitary councils in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Established in Tangier, Alexandria, Tunis, Istanbul and Tehran, these unprecedented institutions strategised against waves of epidemics and pandemics between the 1790s and the 1940s. Their European, American and native co-founders invented new models for fighting pandemics from below and stopping the diseases in their tracks. They continually strove to overcome the familiar barriers to cooperation posed by inter-imperial competition in a multipolar world, economic inequities, protests against quarantine restrictions and racial and Orientalist biases, among others. In this light, the councils constituted the microcosms of the complex dynamics of north-south health cooperation that also need to be addressed urgently today. This project will challenge the mainstream narratives by writing an entangled history of health cooperation and by shifting the focus from top-down to bottom-up processes. It will determine what the preconditions for effective international public health cooperation in MENA were and hypothesise that rather than Great Power imposition or veiled imperialism alone, multifaceted reciprocal action induced and sustained sanitary internationalism on the ground.

  • Researchers: Dr Ozan Ozavci 
  • Funding: European Research Council, Consolidator Grant 
  • Duration: 2024-2029 
Tracing 20 Years of Interventionism in Afghanistan and Beyond

However horrific the war in Afghanistan was, war in itself is not an anomaly it is a social continuity. We are always living through the continuation of a war and at the beginning of another. For instance, just two years after the US and its NATO allies initiated a military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, the UK and US led an invasion into Iraq. No sooner had NATO decided to pull out of Afghanistan in 2021, did its members get embroiled in the war in Ukraine in 2022. The historicity of war, therefore, consists of both the urgent need to grasp the impact of ‘a particular war’ on politics and society, while, it is important to place any case study in the debates on the ontology of war as the (always uncertain) (re)working of meaning, truth and order through violent means.  

This research project investigates how, and importantly why the “Dutch and NATO way of warfare” has evolved during two decades of interventionism in Afghanistan and beyond. We zoom in on why and how particular discourses, actors, technologies, practices, and effects were (re) assembled as conduits of war in Afghanistan between 2001-2021. In addition, we zoom out to understand how this process was informed by previous wars (e.g., Bosnia and Kosovo), mutated into parallel war assemblages (e.g., Iraq and Libya) and dis-assembled and reassembled in current theatres of war (e.g., Ukraine). This project will culminate in academic articles, a book and a report that will be presented to the Dutch government.

Realities of Algorithmic Warfare Programme

As AI and other emerging disruptive technologies are increasingly integrated into all aspects of human life, advanced militaries worldwide have found themselves in what some call an AI arms race, feeding into the third revolution in warfare. From an inter- and transdisciplinary perspective, this research project engages with the realities of increasing autonomy in warfare through artificial intelligence. From a Conflict Studies, International Relations, Media and Cultural Studies, and Law perspective, we investigate how integrating algorithms into existing military technology paves the way for more autonomy, ludification, and remoteness in war, changing the dynamics of the battlefield and posing serious risk to civilians, as well as to fundamental democratic principles like transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. We conduct field research on the emerging military-industrial-commercial complex innovating and deploying algorithmic warfare and the impact these technologies have on civilian harm across different theatres of war, such as in Gaza and Ukraine.  

We share our research findings across a large variety of platforms, including academic books, journal articles, conferences, and reports, and provide our analysis in op-eds, podcasts, media performances, and documentaries. We also run a Community Engaged Learning (CEL) projects where students collaborate with our stakeholders to address societal issues. We have an overview with all our activities.

Moral Empire: Belgium and the Global South (1830-2022)

This project claims Belgian elites and politicians from the independence of the Belgian state in 1830 onwards harboured the ambition to become an imperial superpower. Newly accessible sources from the ministry of foreign affairs archives in Brussels and the National Archives in Congo make it possible for the first time to study the totality of the Belgian empire as well as the ideology that sustained it. Instead of focussing on King Leopold II’s reign of terror in Congo, recently declassified sources suggest Belgian politicians and political factions were involved in the building of a moral empire through the spread of Catholic modernity. Consequently, the fight against the ideologies that anticolonial activists promoted, such as pan-Africanism or Nonalignment, fundamentally shaped Belgian foreign policy.

  • Researchers: Dr Frank Gerits 
  • Funding: NWO Open Competition 
  • Duration: 2023-2024
The Dutch in the Early Modern World
The Dutch in the Early Modern World: The Rise and Fall of a Global Power
Holocaust Diplomacy: The Global Politics of Memory and Forgetting

After 1945, the memory of the Holocaust made its way into diplomatic exchanges. Mentions of the Holocaust were frequent, both in bilateral and multilateral diplomatic settings. But how and why did this happen, and with what consequences?

This project will blend an international historical approach with digital humanities methods to examine the involvement of national, transnational and international actors in shaping the international politics of Holocaust memory at crucial historical junctures during the 1945-2025 period. Challenging the traditional emphasis of the scholarship on Holocaust memory on ‘methodological nationalism’; and pointing to the silence of works on International Relations regarding the Holocaust and its legacy; this project will focus on a variety of actors and specific international arenas to analyze the process of Holocaust memory transmission within bilateral and multilateral diplomatic settings.

Using newly-declassified sources, the project will demonstrate that diplomats, museum curators, international organization staff and national bureaucrats were key ‘memory makers’ in the formative decades of Holocaust commemoration within international forums. Beyond simply implementing policy, they shaped it.

Wassenaar, 1952: Reinventing Reparations
  • Primary Researcher: Dr Lorena De Vita
  • Student Contributors: Anouschka Witte, Dearbhla Reid, Bryony Harris, Sjoerd van Hoenselaar
  • Funding: KNAW Early Career Partnership Grant, Utrecht Young Academy, The Alfred Landecker Foundation.
Consumers on the March: Civic Activism and Political Representation in Europe, 1970s to 1990s

This research programme advances the argument that the expansion of the global consumer economy since the 1970s, the rise of new public interest groups and new conceptions of participatory democracy have transformed European governance in important ways that have until now remained unexplored. The first paradigm shift, this programme postulates, is the transformation of the European Community (EC) from a project of common market and trade policy to one of consumer participation and protection. This change has allowed transnational NGOs, such as consumer groups, to enter the European political arena. The second hypothesis is that this has substantially impacted the understanding of democratic legitimacy: individual consumers rather than economic interests and social classes became the new focus of European policy-makers; by including consumer organisations in the policy-making process, they sought to bolster their legitimacy. Against this backdrop the present research poses the following question: How has the involvement of consumer organisations changed conceptions and practices of public participation in European governance since the 1970s? Through the prism of consumer politics, the project examines the representative claims of new and traditional interest groups and the extent to which they have changed the “rules of the game” of European policy-making.

  • Researchers: Prof. Liesbeth van de Grift
  • Funding: Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
  • Duration: 2018-2023