Boyd van Dijk


Boyd van Dijk is a McKenzie Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He taught previously at the London School of Economics, King's College London, Queen Mary, and the University of Amsterdam. He studied Political Science and History in Amsterdam, Istanbul, Florence, and at Columbia University. He was shortlisted for the IISG-Volkskrant Thesis Award and received the Erik Hazelhoff Young Talent Award. He has published a monograph, articles, and essays for Humanity, American Journal of International Law, Journal of the History of Ideas, Law and History Review, Yad Vashem Studies, Past & Present, as well as Dutch magazines and newspapers. He is currently preparing a book manuscript that uses a comparative lens to understand the making of the 1949 Geneva Conventions (Oxford University Press).


Boyd van Dijk is an historian of modern Europe and the international (legal) order. His research interests include the history of humanitarianism, international organizations, decolonization, and mass violence.

He made his debut with a book on the neighbors of a concentration camp in the Low Countries. His dissertation is a comparative study of the making of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the most important rules ever formulated for armed conflict. It reconstructs the law's mixed origins, focusing on the legacies of the Cold War, occupation, as well as decolonization.


University of Amsterdam - 'Race, Rights, and Humanity in European History' (Undergraduate Seminar)

Any history of modern Europe should take account of its interactions with the wider world. This course will explore the history of modern Europe in the world, focusing on questions of race, rights, and humanity from the nineteenth century to the present. It will trace the origins of those ideas, place them in a larger context of broader political and moral shifts, and explain why some have been recently contested by contrasting actors.

The course shows how Europe’s images of justice and rights were far from constant, but actually shifted overtime to reflect changing moral and political realities. In recognizing historical and moral contingency, the course enables students to reimagine Europe’s past and connect it with present-day concerns and visions of the future.

Topics include the history of world ordering; the connections between empire, race, and law; the abolition of slavery; the history of humanitarian intervention; women’s rights; refugee-protection; critiques of human rights and civilization; and post-colonial challenges to European dominance. Texts for the course will include pamphlets, literature, theory, tv series, philosophy, and cutting-edge research in (extra-)European history. Each class students are expected to answer a set of research questions and to present a contemporary text (e.g. article, visual imagery, etc.) relevant to the historical topic under discussion.

LSE - 'From Empire to Independence: The Extra-European World in the Twentieth Century' (Undergraduate Seminar, HY113)

The course is an introductory survey of events outside Europe in the twentieth century, with a particular emphasis on the collapse of the Western colonial empires, the development of relations between the West and new states within Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the struggle between left and right in Latin America, and the rise of non-Western models of political development. It begins with the state of the European empires in the first half of the century; Indian, and Algerian independence; post-independence Africa and the rise and fall of Apartheid; the rise of the non-aligned movement; North-South debates and the debt crisis of the 1980s; the path from independence to revolution in Cuba; the Japanese challenge to the West; the Chinese revolution; China under Mao and Deng; the Japanese developmental state; the development of the modern Middle East; and the Iranian revolution.

QMUL - 'Human Rights in History: Origins, Foundations, Prospects' (Undergraduate Seminar, HST5405)

Where do human rights come from? Historians began treating ‘human rights’ as a distinct historical subject about a decade ago, and since then the field has grown considerably. In this short time the field has shifted from a celebration of the origins and roots of a universal language for making moral claims, to more critical interpretations of historical origins that question the consequences of this inheritance for contemporary politics and global justice. In this class we will examine the origins of the idea of human rights, how it became institutionalized in law and international politics, and how its history and prospects have become so fiercely contested today.

KCL - 'History of the International System' (Undergraduate Seminar, 4SSW1007)

Examining important events in the historical development of today’s international system, and generalizations that have been drawn from them, this module seeks to provide students with a basic knowledge of international history over approximately the past 350 years (1648-2001). In particular, we will examine the forces — political, military, economic, and cultural — that have given shape to the modern world. This is not a comprehensive course in international history that covers all regions of the world, but one that focuses primarily on the interactions between the great powers of a given era. As a result, it is largely — though not exclusively — Eurocentric in focus. This course will entail considerable reading of history, though elements of theory are included. Our purpose is not to memorize dates and battles, but to understand the interplay of major forces, as well as the theories that attempt to explain these events.


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Title: 'The Making of the Geneva Conventions: Decolonization, the Cold War, and the Birth of Humanitarian Law'

Abstract: 'The Geneva Conventions of 1949 are generally considered the most important codified rules ever formulated for times of war. Conventional wisdom considers them as a liberal humanitarian response to the Second World War. Tracing the international, imperial, and intellectual foundations of these treaties, this dissertation breaks with many traditional explanations by uncovering humanitarian law’s mixed and contested origins. It does so by reconstructing the interwar and postwar drafting debates regarding four principal questions, namely: the protection of civilians, irregulars, the regulation of civil and colonial wars, and of air (and atomic) warfare. It shows in detail how the birth of the Conventions was intimately connected to competing political visions of different key actors. Rising Cold War tensions, the memories of occupation and genocide, the outbreak of civil and colonial wars, and the changing character of the international order, all shaped the way in which they reemerged from the 1940s. The dissertation, which is based upon multinational and newly uncovered archival materials, prompts a fundamental shift with respect to the history of humanitarian law. It uses a comparative approach, focusing on the internal and public debates among and within the four major state and non-state drafting parties of this revision process – France, the ICRC, United Kingdom, and the United States. While adhering to recent approaches to international legal history, it seeks to critically examine the origins of, and the connections between, configurations of humanity and human rights at the start of the Cold War and at the end of empire.'


During the Second World War, the inhabitants of a Dutch town were forced to live with Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch, also known as Camp Vught. The ties between the villagers and the camp's prisoners and guards were remarkably intimiate: some locals had close relations with the SS elite, others distributed aid among the prisoners.

Leven naast het kamp is the first comprehensive account of in- and outsider relations of the most deadly concentration camp in the Low Countries. Drawing on extensive archival research and oral history, Boyd van Dijk explains how dynamics of mass violence and persecution had a profound impact on the relations between perpetrators, bystanders, and victims.


'A beautiful book (...) By not being judgmental the author reveals the gray area between guilt and innocence.'

De Correspondent

'Meticulous and lively (...) Sagacious.' (★★★★)

Dr. Anet Bleich, De Volkskrant

'An interesting study (...) intelligent.'

Henk van Renssen, Vrij Nederland

'Top-three greatest history books of 2013 (...) This book, mainly because of its chosen angle, is a must-read for everyone interested in World War II in the Netherlands.'

Dr. Ewout Klei, The Post Online

'Leven naast het kamp [makes] painfully clear that bystanders directly or indirectly could have a large share in the persecution of Jews and political prisoners.'

Dr. Susan Hogervorst, Low Countries Historical Review (BMGN)

'We're now living in a time of peace and prosperity, but it's promising and hopeful that the generation of Van Dijk (26) still remains committed to writing about the epitome of Dutch modern history. Books like these fill the existing gap in our history education.'


'A fascinating book on the dilemma resistance/accomodation.'

Jan Hoekema, Mayor of Wassenaar

'Van Dijk was mainly guided during his scientific research by curiosity and wonder (...) In this book he conveys that astonishment directly to the reader.'

Yfke Nijland and Ad van Liempt, author of Kopgeld and Jodenjacht

'With his debut 'Leven naast het kamp' Boyd van Dijk has written a chronicle of life in Vught in all its diversity. The combination of inconceivable barbarity with the inconvenient everyday life makes this story thorough, sincere and so leaves a lasting impression.' (★★★★)

Cutting Edge

'Boyd van Dijk is a talented historian (...) With his remarkable Leven naast het kamp he shows that he has a lot of promise.'

Dr. Enne Koops, Historiek

'Leven naast het kamp makes you thinking. What would I’ve done at that moment? The author (...) draws in a striking and special way our attention to World War II.' (★★★★)

Renewed third edition out now.