The Construction of Territory in Nineteenth Century International Legal Doctrine

Legal imaginations of nineteenth century lawyers continue to shape today’s understanding of territory in international law. The current edition of Oppenheim’s International Law opens the chapter on territory with the following definition: “State territory is that defined portion of the globe which is subjected to the sovereignty of a state. A wandering tribe, although it has a government and is otherwise organised, is not a state until it has settled down in a territory of its own.” This paper enquires into the function that imaginations of sedentariness and unsettledness played in legal doctrines on territory developed by German international lawyers in the nineteenth century. These imaginations were often encapsulated in the figure of the nomad. German international lawyers saw the figure of the nomad as the antipode to notions of territorial sovereignty and imaginations of sedentariness and unsettledness were often enmeshed with agricultural progress and notions of property rights.