The Guardians

The Guardians : The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire

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At the end of the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference saw a battle over the future of empire. The victorious allied powers wanted to annex the Ottoman territories and German colonies they had occupied; Woodrow Wilson and a groundswell of anti-imperialist activism stood in their way. France, Belgium, Japan and the British dominions reluctantly agreed to an Anglo-American proposal to hold and administer those allied conquests under "mandate" from the new League of Nations. In the end, fourteen mandated territories were set up across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific. Against all odds, these disparate and far-flung territories became the site and the vehicle of global transformation. In this masterful history of the mandates system, Susan Pedersen illuminates the role the League of Nations played in creating the modern world. Tracing the system from its creation in 1920 until its demise in 1939, Pedersen examines its workings from the realm of international diplomacy; the viewpoints of the League's experts and officials; and the arena of local struggles within the territories themselves. Featuring a cast of larger-than-life figures, including Lord Lugard, King Faisal, Chaim Weizmann and Ralph Bunche, the narrative sweeps across the globe-from windswept scrublands along the Orange River to famine-blighted hilltops in Rwanda to Damascus under French bombardment-but always returns to Switzerland and the sometimes vicious battles over ideas of civilization, independence, economic relations, and sovereignty in the Geneva headquarters. As Pedersen shows, although the architects and officials of the mandates system always sought to uphold imperial authority, colonial nationalists, German revisionists, African-American intellectuals and others were able to use the platform Geneva offered to challenge their claims. Amid this cacophony, imperial statesmen began exploring new means - client states, economic concessions - of securing Western hegemony. In the end, the mandate system helped to create the world in which we now live. A riveting work of global history, The Guardians enables us to look back at the League with new eyes, and in doing so, appreciate how complex, multivalent, and consequential this first great experiment in internationalism really was.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 592 pages
  • 167.64 x 233.68 x 45.72mm | 884.5g
  • United States
  • English
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 0199730032
  • 9780199730032
  • 1,057,679

Review quote

-Susan Pedersen's account of the PMC is replete with fascinating personalities as well as the turbulence of the interwar years This book forms part of an important new wave of assessment of the League of Nations, based on exacting scholarship rather than post-Second World War disillusionment. The failings and inadequacies of the PMC are amply documented, but so too are the evolution of thinking on issues of global governance Elegantly written, highly accessible, meticulously researched, this is a model of historical scholarship.---Journal of Modern History




-With The Guardians, Susan Pedersen has produced an impressive, deeply researched and extremely engaging history of the mandates system, which was a key component among the League's founding tasks Pedersen provides the first genuinely new history on the Mandates as a complete system since the 1940s Pedersen also writes beautifully, with an eye for the sharply-framed insight This is a book to be read and not simply consulted: written with verve, sympathy, and, in places, humour, it is an engaging and genuinely accessible work of scholarship. Its arguments will deservedly frame all scholarly discussion of the mandates system, and much on the League of Nations as a whole, for some time to come.---Andrew Webster, H-Diplo-




-Pedersen wraps these ironic narratives together into a remarkably coherent and readable origin story of our contemporary world...The depth and authority of her scholarship is rooted in her impressive (at times astonishing) grasp of the relevant sources, including a host of national and thematic historical literatures as well as primary materials, in multiple languages and on multiple continents. As a factual exposition, compelling interpretation, and multi-archival excavation of the mandates system's history, The Guardians is unsurpassed and likely to remain so for a long time.---Trygve Throntveit, H-Diplo




-Pedersen's account is so effective because she fully inhabits the minds of these European elites. Her prose captures their confident legalism and pretense to civilization, then juxtaposes these with the carnage they authorized There is much to engage with in Pedersen's rich and nuanced argument the book's greatest promise, in my view, is that it may inspire a new round of scholarship placing local history in dialogue with international institutions based in Europe The Guardians opens the door to research that may overturn not only our understanding of global politics after the 1919 Wilsonian moment but also reinvent the discipline of international history itself.---Elizabeth F. Thompson, H-Diplo




-This book provides answers to more than one essential historical question of our time, nearly a century after the League's optimistic formation By pioneering an internationalist approach to interwar imperial history through the lens of the League, Pedersen's work asks for similar work to be undertaken from other historical vantage points. Having done so much, her work reveals how much is still to be done.---Meredith Terretta, H-Diplo




-The main contribution and originality of Susan Pedersen's book is to show how an international institution like the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission came to have a life of its own, independently of its stakeholders All in all, this book will be of interest not only to historians but also to specialists in international relations and political scientists working on international institutions.---Veronique Dimier, H-Diplo




-In recent years, few scholars have done more than Susan Pedersen to take us, as she once put it, 'back to the League of Nations.' Now, with The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, she presents an extensively researched, elegantly written, and boldly argued case for the significance of the League's Mandate system in the international history of the interwar years The Guardians tells a rich and important story ---Erez Manela, H-Diplo




-Susan Pedersen has produced an instant classic, a work of extraordinary range that is without question the most insightful and carefully researched study of the mandates system currently available. It will remain a touchstone for all future discussion of this system, as well as of its complex and variegated implications for subsequent exercises in nation- and statebuilding. It should-and doubtless shall-be read (and reread) widely.---Law and History Review




-The first indispensable book written on a critical subject in 50 years! 'The Guardians' is a magnificent book. Telling a complex yet compelling story, it deserves to be read by anyone interested in the European overseas empires during a crucial epoch of world history.-
--Wall Street Journal




-A richly detailed study...her book shows that the conventional wisdom about the League will not do.--Financial Times




-The Guardians is not simply a brilliant, beautifully executed study of the League as a major actor in the interwar years. It is also a cautionary tale about international governance today.--Barbara J. Keys, Diplomatic History




-Impressive...Joining a global scope to deep archival research, Susan Pedersen reveals the process by which a group of supposedly apolitical technocrats at the League helped to create a new kind of international politics and to destroy the imperial order they had set out to protect.--Dissent
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About Susan Pedersen

Susan Pedersen is Professor and James P. Shenton Professor of the Core Curriculum at Columbia University. She specializes in British history, the British Empire, comparative European history, and international history. She is the author of several books, including Eleanor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience.
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50 ratings
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