The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace

Oxford University Press 2010, Four volumes, 2848 pages.

By Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan

The new Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace is the result of a half a decade of effort and the collaboration of 531 contributing scholars and activists, representing every continent except Antarctica.

This is a massive work, and this brief review can only scratch the surface. Encyclopedias are not meant to be read but to be consulted. Nonetheless I find visitors picking up a volume and becoming engrossed in entries.

The Encyclopedia explores the many definitions of peace; presents the solutions and methodologies to various violent conflicts experienced around the world; makes clear how peace was sought, reached, and at times maintained in the world from pre-history to the present. The entries range from Accords to Zones of Peace, each of which is accompanied by bibliographic references for further reading and cross referencing.

Despite the extraordinary number of contributors the contents have a consistent tone, reflecting careful editing. The information is accessed either by the topical outline of entries, through the alphabetic listing of entries, or through the extensive final index in the fourth volume. A listing of terms and key references is included, and the fourth volume contains a chronological collection of key documents from the entry on “peace” in the 1751 Encyclopedie to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

A search I made for Canada in the final index netted 60 entries. The section on “Canada, Peace Movements in” begins in the late 1800s with Peace Societies set up subsequent to the war of 1812, and the role of the Canadian Women’s Peace Party as a forerunner to the well known Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and moves chronologically through time to opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Following the search on Canada I picked an area of keen interest for me: Disarmament. The Encyclopedia has two entries: Enforced Disarmament and General and Complete Disarmament. This may seem limited at first glance, but the article links to other subjects within the Encyclopedia, and considers further disarmament under the class of weapon, specific treaties, or social movements advocating disarmament. Enforced disarmament, like most other entries, begins with the earliest known historical examples and moves chronologically to the present. It informs us that the oldest type of disarmament started as a substitution for killing or enslavement of defeated people, such as the destruction of fortifications since they were expensive and time-consuming weapons to restore. Current enforced disarmament takes place in accordance with stipulations in peace accords under which one or more of the combatants undergoes disarmament as a component of the dissolution of a combatant organization, as in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration—frequently accomplished under UN auspices.

Oxford followed up the release of the Encyclopedia of Peace with an encyclopedia of warfare and military technology covering only medieval times. It was almost as large and had almost as many contributors as the Encyclopedia of Peace. Comparatively, these volumes on peace are modest, reflecting how thoroughly militarized our cultures are. The four volume size could be seen as a monument to how little we’ve done in developing peace technology and systems in human society. The development of universal peace education and peace studies programs will be a necessary part of creating a demilitarized world, and these volumes provide a clear reference to our efforts in the study and practice of peace.

Peace groups and individuals should welcome the appearance of this Encyclopedia and advocate for its acquisition by university and public libraries everywhere or undertake the fundraising necessary to acquire and distribute it.

The reviewer’s conversation with Nigel Young, Editor-in-Chief of the International Encyclopedia of Peace, August 2010, Oxford, England

How and when did the idea of compiling the encyclopedia take place?

YOUNG: It was around 2003 when I was contemplating what to do after finishing my teaching career at Colgate University, where I was director of the Peace Studies program. I was talking to a colleague who worked on encyclopedias and I was also in touch with an editor who was quite interested in the idea of a peace encyclopedia and asked me to produce a proposal. I felt that previous encyclopedias, such as the one from 1986, needed replacing. So many new developments had taken place since then in peace studies that we needed a new reference work—a new benchmark. So I left Colgate and the directorship to undertake its compilation.

How did you find the people with the expertise to author the different topics with the Encyclopedia?

YOUNG: I received many many referrals for appropriate authors, and I didn’t always get my first choice—either because they were too busy or too far along in years or whatever. However, given that I have been in the field all my working life really, I had developed quite a lot of contacts of my own. I also made extensive use of existing networks such as the International Peace Research Association and the International Studies Association, who provided me with contacts to persons whom I had either met in the past or knew by name. If the experts I contacted were not available to write the entry, sometimes their PhD students wrote it.

We tried to globalize it and make sure the gender dimension was adequately covered. This was difficult, particularly since some authors didn’t have English as their first or even second language. We had to work to get an appropriate translation of their ideas.

What were some of the most remarkable entries?

YOUNG: I had been teaching peace studies full time since 1973 and had previously done peace research. The curriculum of peace studies has been constantly changing between the 1960s and 2004, and I wanted to reflect the field as it had developed, adding on one or two new evolutions from the last 10 years which had not been taught so much and indeed haven’t necessarily been in the mainstream of peace research but were also there.

You must have learned things that you didn’t know when you started on this?

*YOUNG:*Nothing startlingly new, but there were some revelations. I was very impressed with some of the religious writing. Not being a particularly spiritual person myself, I was surprised how strong were some of the contributions on religious peace work. I was also very interested in some of the nuts and bolts of UN operations which I hadn’t been aware of before, and that there existed extensive studies of peacekeeping and peacekeeping operations.

How often will the encyclopedia be up-dated? I hope that they are willing to consider institutionalizing this so that there are regular updates, as with other encyclopedias in other fields.

*YOUNG:*We have an online version of the Encyclopedia on the Oxford Digital Reference Shelf (paid subscription service) to which we are making small amendments now, such as correcting dates. Since the Encyclopedia is doing very well, the publishers are now talking about a second edition, which will take many years to prepare. There are things I would like to add or change.

Such as?

YOUNG: I’d like to add some visuals, maps, charts, and an index of particularly important peace images—things that are in the archives but haven’t been seen much by peace scholars. Unfortunately, OUP didn’t have the budget for illustrations, but in a further edition they will certainly include that.

I’ve taken these volumes to talks at conferences and it’s amazing to watch the cluster of people who gather around to look through them. Several groups have actually bought copies to put in their local, university, or community college libraries or have purchased them to send to a third world university or centre, which is great. I just received a wonderful letter from the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Centre in Malawi telling us how they appreciated having these at their centre there. The word of their existance is getting out and I’m delighted about that.

The Encyclopedia has required five years of work, but people seem pleased with it and I am gratified by that.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan is an independent scholar who authored the entries on Nonviolence Movements in Southeast Asia and Buddhist Peace Movements for the Encyclopedia.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2010

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2010, page 28. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan (reviewer) here

Peace Magazine homepage