The League of Nations was designed and authorized during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference in the aftermath of World War I. The leaders of the victorious powers, particularly US president Woodrow Wilson, hoped to create an international organization and permanent conference that would serve to peacefully resolve future conflicts and prevent another war. Although they managed to found the League of Nations to those declared ends, this experiment in international security is generally regarded as a failure, especially in light of the outbreak of World War II. After World War II, the victors attempted to improve on the League by creating the United Nations, but they kept the League’s bicameral structure as a model. During its formal existence from January 1920 until April 1946, the League faced a variety of violent conflicts that it usually failed to prevent. However, at levels below that of international security, the League advanced a number of important areas and issues in international relations, including the way states approached emergent global issues such as human rights, post–World War II revision of international law, and ongoing efforts to provide some form of collective security to the international community.
Many authors have attempted to paint a generalized portrait of the League of Nations. One of the most respected of these efforts is Walters 1952, which is a penetrating two-volume history of the League. Many scholars point to this work as the most definitive overview on the subject. Northedge 1986 complements Walters’s work in its attempt to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the League and may provide a less intimidating introduction to the League for students. Gill 1996 is a more recent and shorter publication on the League’s history, but it only covers the second half of the League’s existence. Scott 1973 is a colorful narrative of the highlights of the League’s history but it does not break any new ground in terms of historical analysis. For an even shorter overview of the League, see Raffo 1974. League of Nations Information Section 1939 is a league publication and overview of all things related to the League. Aufricht 1951 and Henig 1973 each offer guidance through different sets of league documents that would be helpful to researchers.
Aufricht, Hans. Guide to League of Nations Publications: A Bibliographical Survey of the Work of the League, 1920–1946. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951.
Detailed and chronological lists of league documents relating to the Covenant, the International Labor Organization, and the Permanent Court of International Justice.
Gill, George. The League of Nations, from 1929 to 1946. Partners for Peace 2. New York: Avery, 1996.
A brief overview of the later years; this was a difficult period because of the many conflicts rising across the globe, centering on but not limited to Japanese aggression, German rearmament, Italian expansionism, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II.
Henig, Ruth B., ed. The League of Nations. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1973.
Edited volume; primary source documents; mainly British documents covering a variety of topics and episodes such as responses to German rearmament, mandate policies, and membership issues.
League of Nations Information Section. The Essential Facts about the League of Nations. Geneva, Switzerland: League of Nations, 1939.
A well-received handbook containing facts and dates; includes documents about Mandated Territories, national minorities, and Geneva, as well as several good maps.
Northedge, F. S. The League of Nations: Its Life and Times, 1920–1946. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986.
A well-researched and balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses; a good introductory text for students.
Raffo, P. The League of Nations. London: Historical Association, 1974.
A brief pamphlet highlighting key episodes; out of print, may be difficult to find.
Scott, George. The Rise and Fall of the League of Nations. London: Hutchinson, 1973.
A colorful narrative written by a distinguished British journalist; criticized for its lack of deep historical analysis.
Walters, F. P. A History of the League of Nations. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952.
Often cited as the definitive history on the League of Nations; Walters served in various leadership capacities during the creation and functioning of the League; both a well- researched history and an in-depth firsthand account.
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