Elena Kempf

I am a historian of Late Modern Europe, with special interests in international law, human rights and humanitarianism, and modern Germany. During the 2023-24 academic year, I will offer seminars on the history of the laws of war (winter quarter) and the French Revolution (spring quarter).   

My current book project is a history of weapons prohibitions in modern international law. Why and how have some weapons been prohibited and to what effect? I use the case studies of exploding bullets, expanding bullets, submarines, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, and Lethal Autonomous Weapons to trace the project of weapons prohibitions from their modern origin in the 1860s to today. Throughout, I show that the idea of prohibiting some weapons under international law was negotiated broadly, involving military experts, scientists, politicians, journalists, and everyday citizens. Weapons prohibitions, I argue, reflected and shaped a world that made moral distinctions between different weapons while acquiescing to war as an instrument of state policy. 

My writing has appeared in or is forthcoming with the Heidelberg Journal of International Law, Voelkerrechtsblog, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Critical Military Studies, and the Oxford Handbook on Comparative Human Rights Law. 

I currently serve as a Fellow with the Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law at Berkeley Law School. I received my Ph.D., M.A., and B.A. in History from UC Berkeley.