Acquainting students with international law, scholars, and scholarly methods

With carpenters at work on an annual tradition – building the platform on which 230 Georgia Law students will be graduated Saturday – it seems a good time to reflect on this semester’s pedagogical adventure.

colloqThe adventure was the Georgia Law International Law Colloquium, founded 8 years ago and still going strong. This was the 1st year I served as series coordinator, bringing here to Athens 8 scholars whom my colleagues, Harlan Cohen, Lori Ringhand, Bo Rutledge, and Tim Meyer, helped me select. As the roster indicates, we welcomed scholars who work overseas as well as Stateside. Their works in progress spanned many subfields of international law law, from comparative constitutionalism to human rights and migration, from investment arbitration and intellectual property to targeting of military objectives. We got sneak peeks of some nearly finished writings, such as an excerpt from Bill Schabas’ new 3-volume work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Leila Sadat’s forthcoming American Journal of International Law article on crimes against humanity, as well as looks at works still in their formative stages. We enjoyed spirited conversations among scholars, discussants, and students.

For me, the 20 students who took part made the class far more than just another scholars’ roundtable. The week before our 1st visitor arrived, we began by exploring ways to do international law scholarship. Each students read an article from among the following:

► The 9 articles comprising the “Symposium on Method in International Law” co-edited by Anne-Marie Slaughter and Steven Ratner and published in the April 1999 issue of AJIL. It remains a stellar introduction to issues of methodology, including commentary on positivism, legal process, law and economics, critical legal studies, and feminist jurisprudence. A few other articles served to fill a few gaps:

► On idealism and realism, 2 articles published following “The Limits of International Law” symposium sponsored in 2005 by our Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law; participants explored the then-new book of the same named by Jack Goldsmith and Eric Posner.

►On comparativism and internal implementation of international law, a 2003 McGill Law Journal article by Jamie Cameron.

The readings led to a wide-ranging discussion, 1st, on how international law writing is done, what its goals are, who its audience or audiences may be, and 2d, on how answers to those questions militate in favor of some but not other methodologies. That set the stage for students’ informed and informative questions and comments about each work in progress, posted initially in reaction papers and then in face-to-face discussions with the scholar-author. The learning curve moved quickly throughout the course, making for a rewarding teaching and learning experience.

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