Professor Edward Kolla of Georgetown University Qatar discusses the source base for his recent book, Sovereignty, International Law, and the French Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2017), and the importance of one source in particular–diplomatic communiques. A lightly edited transcript follows. You can also check out further conversations with Professor Kolla about his work here.
The source base for the book was very diverse. I looked at materials from a number of different of archives in France (the National Archives and National Library in Paris), but also regional archives in a number of the areas that I study in the book (I did research in Alsace, Corsica, Avignon). Probably the most important source for the book were diplomatic communiqués housed in the French Foreign Ministry Archives (which used to be a great place to do research; it was in the old Foreign Ministry at the Quai d’Orsay. The archives have since been moved out, but you used to walk past the Minister’s Office to get to the reading room). And like I say, those diplomatic communiqués were probably the most important source for my book because one thing I really wanted to examine was the way the law operated in practice. That is, the way diplomats—and French officials and everyday people in popular pamphlet literature, etc., but especially diplomats—were thinking about the law and how they saw the law as applying to actual diplomatic problems and issues of importance in the day that needed to be dealt with. So it’s not just a book about international law as theory or international law as doctrine but really about how people—like I said, diplomats, but also just average people in the streets in France—thought about the law and how it could impact their lives.