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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Print Price: $49.50

592 pp.
50 b/w illustrations, 6.125" x 9.25"


Publication date:
May 2015

Imprint: OUP US

The Guardians

The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire

Susan Pedersen

Winner of the 2015 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature.

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.

Readership : Academics and general readers intersted in international relations, 20th-century European history, political history, and international law.

List of Tables and Maps
Principl Players
Introduction: Guardians Assemble
Part I. Making the Mandates System
1. Of Covenants and Carve-ups
2. Rules of the Game
3. A Whole World Talking
Part II. Retreat from Self-Determination, 1923-1930
Preface: Allies and Rivals
4. News from the Orange River
5. Bombing Damascus
6. A Pacific People Says No
Part III. New Times, New Norms, 1927-1933
Preface: Enter the Germans
7. The struggle over sovereignty
8. Market economies or command economies?
9. An independence safe for empire
Part IV. Between Empire and Internationalism, 1933-39
Preface: Multiple exits
10. Legitimation Crisis
11. When empire stopped working
12. When internationalism stopped working
Conclusion. Mandatory Statehood in the Making
Appendix I: Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations
Appendix II: Principal administrators of mandated territories
Photo credits
A Note on Sources
Works Cited

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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.

Writing History - William Kelleher Storey and Towser Jones
Securing the World Economy - Patricia Clavin
The United Nations: A Very Short Introduction - Jussi M. Hanhimäki
The Lights that Failed - Zara Steiner
The Wilsonian Moment - Erez Manela

Special Features

  • Author is internationally recognized as the expert on the subject.
  • Populated by fascinating characters from Woodrow Wilson to Lord Lugard, Jan Smuts, and King Feisal.
  • The first accessible and comprehensive book on the mandates system ever written.
  • Based on remarkable orginal research, undertaken on four continents and in numerous archives.