Policing a Postimperial World

Seminars and Colloquia

The organization today know as Interpol was founded in Vienna in 1923. While most histories of the organization depict it as an almost inevitable product of large historical forces such as the modernization and specialization of policing, globalization, and the emergence of international institutions in the twentieth century, the precise place and circumstances of its birth were essential to its founding and early success. The organization was born out of a program to overcome the legacies of the Habsburg Empire and the lasting reverberations of its tumultuous breakup following the First World War. 

In this talk, David Petruccelli used efforts to fight a particular set of offenses (drug crimes) to show how the drive to internationalize policing in the early twentieth century was tied to the messy processes of imperial collapse convulsing Eastern and Central Europe after 1918. He explored how this postimperial form of internationalism fits into a broader world of internationalisms emerging in and around the League of Nations which has attracted considerable historical attention in the last two decades. 

In its approach to the nascent international drug control regime, Interpol’s postimperial program of international policing collided with imperial schemes of British and other Western European policymakers and efforts by officials from a rising United States to impose their moral order on the world. Finally, Petruccelli considered the implications of these postimperial roots of Interpol for our understanding of international policing and international crime control today.

David Petruccelli, assistant professor in the History Department at Dartmouth College, author of the book manuscript A Scourge of Humanity: International Crime, Law, and Policing in Interwar Europe, studies and teaches Modern European and International History. Currently Guest of the Institute at IWM.

Katherine Younger, IWM Permanent Fellow and Research Director of the Ukraine in European Dialogue program, provided commentary and moderated the ensuing discussion.


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.