Zimmern, Alfred

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Zimmern, Alfred

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  • Zimmern, Alfred Eckhard
  • Zimmern, Alfred, Sir

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Alfred Zimmern was born in 1879 in Surrey, England, into a family with German Jewish and Huguenot ancestry. He was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, gaining first class honours in classics in 1902, and remained at New College as a tutor and fellow until 1909. Following a trip to Greece he published his widely acclaimed book The Greek Commonwealth in 1911. In his academic work he combined classical Greek idealism with an interest in contemporary international affairs, often optimistic to outlaw war by internationalist means.

From 1912-1915, he worked as an inspector at the Board of Education, before joining the Ministry of Reconstruction in 1917 and the political intelligence department at the Foreign Office in 1918. In this capacity he attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. An avid supporter of international cooperation, Zimmern drafted a memo for a league of nations that Lord Robert Cecil took to the Paris Peace Conference. Zimmern was involved in founding the British League of Nations Society in 1917 as well as the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in 1919–1920. From 1919–1921, Zimmern was inaugural Woodrow Wilson Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth, Wales. He lectured at Cornell University from 1922–1923, and in 1924 he stood unsuccessfully as a Labour Candidate in the general election.

From 1926–1930, he served as Deputy Director of the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC). During his time as Deputy Director of the IIIC, Zimmern headed the University Relations Section. He was Chief of the Section for General Affairs, as of 1926. He also played an important role at the International Studies Conference, a gathering of experts on International Relations under the auspices of the IIIC, of which he became the first rapporteur in 1928.

In 1930 he returned to academia, becoming the first Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Oxford, a post that he held until 1944. During the late 1920s he also offered summer schools on International Relations in Geneva. He was knighted in 1936. After the war he served as Secretary-General of the London Conference to establish UNESCO in November 1945 and then as an Advisor to the Preparatory Commission of UNESCO, but was replaced by Julian Huxley who went on to become UNESCO’s first Director-General. Zimmern died in 1957 in Connecticut.


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International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation (1925-1946)

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Alfred Zimmern was Deputy Director of the IIIC

Related entity

International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation. University Relations Section (1925-1946)

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Dates of the relationship

1926 - 1930

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Created by Jan Stöckmann 07-08-2015. Updated by Alicia Dotiwalla 01-06-2016.




  • D. J. Markwell, ‘Zimmern, Sir Alfred Eckhard (1879–1957)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37088, accessed 8 July 2015].
  • J. D. B. Miller (1979–80) ‘The commonwealth and world order: the Zimmern vision and after’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 8, pp.159–74.
  • The League of Nations, The International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, Paris, 1926, p 13.

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