The Public International Law Textbook Advances: A Progress Report

International law spans the globe and, per definition, concerns peoples and nations around the world. Yet, truly transboundary scholarly communication is all too often hampered by legal and technical barriers and obstacles. To overcome some of these hurdles, together with a team of around 30 authors from all around the globe we are currently writing the first-ever Open Access textbook in public international law under the umbrella of the initiative “OpenRewi”. The Open Textbook on Public International Law is innovative in at least three ways: not only will it be the world’s first textbook in international law freely accessible and reusable over the internet for students and everyone interested in the subject. Also the approach of writing the textbook in a fully transparent process as an agile collective is novel. The third innovation is the international authorship. They research and teach not only in Germany and other countries of the Global North, but also in Colombia, India, Pakistan, and China, for example. Since Anthea Roberts’ 2017 book “Is International Law International?” has brought into focus how fragmented and “compartmentalized” into national traditions the discipline is despite its claim to universality, the practice of writing textbooks on international law from one single national tradition has been rightly questioned. This is where OpenRewi’s Public International Law project comes in, claiming to be a truly international textbook on international law. The aim is not only that the chapters are written from an authorship as diverse as possible but that, trough our system of peer review, ultimately the whole book reflects a multitude of perspectives and in this sense is more inclusive than any other textbook before.

Working as a team spread across the globe has, of course, its own special challenges. In the course of the first kick-off meetings, we agreed to rotate the times of the regular meetings so that they do not always take place at times that are convenient for Europeans. However, the commitment of the team is as great as the challenge. For the first meetings, which took place in the morning or at noon in the Central European time zone, the Latin American authors sometimes got up at five or even four o’clock in the morning, while the Australian authors stayed out until late in the evening. On the other hand, another meeting for the Europeans took place at midnight.

In terms of content, the fact that we have to look beyond one legal and educational system is both a blessing and a curse. The question of which topics should be included in the textbook at all and how in-depth they should be treated must be answered by the team itself, without there being a binding requirement comparable to the German state exam. In order to set new accents in terms of content, we not only take up new topics such as animal rights in international law, but we also pay special attention to overarching questions that run through the textbook and are raised in an introductory chapter. We have identified these overarching questions in part from the outset – for example, the question of international law’s ambivalent relationship to violence – and in part they are intended to emerge in the course of the peer review phases.

The project is currently in its second writing phase (so-called ‘sprint’ according to our agile working methods). The first outcomes and the encouraging feedback both from within and outside the OpenRewi community help us stay motivated. You can get a glimpse at the current version of the book outline and of individual chapters here.

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