David Armitage on “Civil War: A Genealogy” (4th Diggins Memorial Lecture)

OCT 31, 2013 | 6:00 PM TO 8:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


9100: Skylight Room


October 31, 2013: 6:00 PM-8:00 PM






Civil war is like pornography--we think we know it when we see it. Yet ideas of civil war have a long and contested history with multiple meanings and contested applications. This lecture offers a critical history of conceptions of civil war from ancient Rome to recent events in Iraq and Syria, with   special attention to American debates in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twenty-first centuries. The application of the term “civil war” can depend on whether you are a ruler or a rebel, the victor or the vanquished, an established government or an interested third party. It can also determine whether outside powers intervene, which provisions of international humanitarian laws, and what international aid bodies like the World Bank are willing to invest in war-torn countries. Conflict over its meaning, as well as the meaning of conflict, demand historical reconstruction to illuminate contemporary confusions about civil war.