Elena Kempf

I am a historian of Late Modern Europe, with special interests in international law, human rights and humanitarianism, modern Germany, and animal history. During the 2022-23 academic year, I will offer a colloquium on the history of the laws of war and a lecture course on modern European history.

My current book project is a history of international weapons law from the 1860s to the 1920s. Why and how have some weapons been prohibited and to what effect? Using five case studies—exploding bullets, expanding “dum-dum” bullets, the First World War, submarines, and chemical warfare—I demonstrate how weapons prohibitions rose to prominence in the context of imperial and industrialized warfare. Once in place, weapons prohibitions became moral weapons themselves, both restricting and enabling wartime violence. Beyond the book project, I have started research on the global history of weapons exports from the three postwar Germanies, and aspire to study the history of classical horse training.

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

I received my Ph.D., M.A., and B.A. in History from UC Berkeley. I have previously taught U.S. and world history at the Menlo School and served as interim postdoctoral scholar with the Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law at Berkeley Law School.

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