Every year in honor of Lore Kephart, the history department hosts the Lore Kephart ’86 Distinguished Historians Lecture Series. This year the speaker was Isabel Hull, John Stambaugh Professor of History at Cornell University. Her talk was entitled “Reinterpreting the First World War Through the Lens of International Law”. Earlier in the day before Dr. Hull’s talk, several graduate students had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Hull and hear about her research. Sitting around a table with up and coming historians and an established historian whose work is well recognized was a fantastic and awe-inspiring experience. Being able to engage with historians of different fields puts into perspective how important the field of history is and the many different ways to study history there are.
Dr. Hull’s talk brilliantly looked at World War I through international law. Dan Gorman, a graduate student in the history department, describes the importance of Dr. Hull’s talk: “The Kephart lecture reiterated from a legal history perspective the collapse during World War One of an old world of elite European ethics and social rules. While the Allies perpetuated old arguments about the legality and careful regulation of warfare, the German military operated under a total war legal consciousness, showing a willingness to attack civilians and destroy neutral targets if those actions advanced military objectives. This mentality on the Germans’ part challenged and helped destroy Europe’s nineteenth-century legal framework for warfare. Certainly, the ideas of establishing rules of engagement and protecting noncombatants resurfaced in the League of Nations and the United Nations. Nonetheless, the legacy of the German military in World War One, with its shrewdly modern embrace of brutal tactics against nonbelligerents, is a reminder of war’s innate savagery, no matter how much one tries to hem that in with law. Dr. Hull’s book therefore has considerable ethical implications intertwined with its narrative.”
Having not studied World War I in great detail, Dr. Hull gave a capturing look at World War I that went beyond the war itself and looked at other factors in the war. In all, it was a great talk that opened my eyes to important factors in the war that are being studied. Interdisciplinary studies are fascinating ways to look at events and make the study of history that much more exciting. The outpouring of support from the history department from undergraduates, to graduates, and faculty was an amazing sight showing me as a new graduate student the great work Villanova and the department do.
While it happened a while ago, what were some of the things you learned from Dr. Hull’s talk?
Check out some of our grad students at the event!