Aarhus University Seal



Karen Gram-Skjoldager, Associate Professor, Aarhus University

Inventing International Bureaucracy: The Creation of Bureaucratic Norms and Practices in the League Secretariat

This project aims to tell the story of how the League Secretariat was created, evolved and eventually dissolved from the perspective of the leadership of the Secretariat. It explores the processes through which a small group of prominent League officials developed the Secretariat into a settled form with formal as well as real autonomy from member states and other League institutions. It explores how they  imported, adopted and reworked national logics and models of bureaucracy to amass legitimacy internationally as well as internally and create an efficient international administration. In doing so it investigates the professional, national, social and gendered qualities that were required of the ideal international civil servant and maps the social hierarchies and functional divisions that came to shape this international civil service. ��7­

Haakon Ikonomou, Postdoctoral researcher, Aarhus University

International Bureaucracy and Transnational Activism: the Disarmament Section in the League of Nations Secretariat

Disarmament was at the heart of the League of Nations’ very raison d’être and was explicitly written into the Covenant of the organization. How this would come about in practice, on the other hand, was left undefined by the signatories, and would prove to be an insurmountable stumbling block on the way to “achieve international peace and security”. This project will map the composition, role and work of the League of Nations’ Disarmament Section as it maneuvered the contested waters of international disarmemant. What kind of bureaucratic role did it take on in balancing legitimate national interests and ‘the good of the international’, between French security, British arms reductions on land, and German parity? How did it engage with the various committees and sub-committees through which the League would deal with the matter of disarmament? What kind of knowledge did the staff of the disarmament section produce through their yearbooks on armaments and trade in arms and what effect did they think it had on shaping national parliamentary debates and public opinion? In what ways did they interact with civil society actors as a broad set of non-governmental associations and organizations mobilized in the most substantial transnational campaign for general disarmament the world has seen?


Torsten Kahlert, Postdoctoral researcher, Aarhus University

Inventing international Bureaucrats: Career Trajectories of British and French Secretariat Employees

This project explores the interactions and connections between the Secretariat and national diplomatic and bureaucratic structures through a prosopographical study of the social characteristics and career trajectories of the two dominant national groups in the League: British and French. The Secretariat was a new arena that offered possibilities for people to bypass social hierarchies and categories in the national arenas and build careers of a kind that had not been seen before. This project will explores what kinds of social capital characterized the people who gained access to the Secretariat in order to determine to what extent and in which ways League officials formed a transnational elite with shared economic, social and cultural characteristics. Further, it explores how working in the Secretariat fed into subsequent careers during and after the Second World War. An analysis of this kind does not only offer insights into the lives of the individuals who populated the Secretariat; it also generates insights into the nature of the League Secretariat itself and the import and export of capitals, ideas and practices that took place here.­



Emil Eiby Seidenfaden, PhD student, Aarhus University

Public Legitimization Strategies in the League of Nations Secretariat and their Legacies

The focal point of my project is the public legitimization strategies of the League of Nations and their afterlife in the postwar United Nations Organization.

How did the secretariat staff of the League of Nations – this new and, for its time, utterly unique organization – go about explaining its ambitions, its powers and limitations to the world? How did they themselves understand the organization whose fight they were appointed to take up? Did they consider it merely an instrument for the upholding of a specific global power balance? Or did they identify with the official rhetoric that portrayed the League as a grand assembly of the progressive and liberal forces of civilization to bring about lasting peace?

The projects ventures out to answer these and more related questions taking as its point of departure the Information Section of the League of Nations and tracing its legacy into the post-1945 United Nations.

Building on sources from the League of Nations archives of Geneva and many other relevant archives, a close look is taken on the men and women whose task it was to promote early international organization.


  • Michael Jonas, Lecturer, Helmut Schmidt University, Hamburg
    German Diplomacy in the League Secretariat
  • Daniel Maul, Associate Professor, University of Oslo
    The League Secretariat and the International Labour Organisation  
  • Øyvind Tønnesson, Associate Professor, University of Agder
    The League Secretariat and the Inter-Parliamentary Union


  • Patricia Clavin, Professor, Oxford University
  • Louis Clerc, Associate Professor, University of Turku
  • Klaas Dykmann, Professor, Roskilde University
  • Corinna Unger, Professor, European University Institute, Florence
  • Antoine Vauchez, Professor, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne