The Martin Domke archives

This individual research project was undertaken in 2017 by Jérôme Sgard.

It has emerged out of a much broader research, launched several years ago, on the history of international commercial arbitration (1880-1980). The aim is to publish within two years a reference book on this global, private, extra-territorial institution that slowly grew out of a mix of utopic speculations, practical experimentation, bargaining, lobbying and ultimately legitimation. A striking feature of this long-run evolutionary pattern, however, is that international arbitration was the child of a small number of people, many of them relative social outsiders, with no political access and little academic recognition. In particular, many Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe and Nazi Germany re-settled in Paris and New York, and became the Founding Fathers of modern arbitration, thanks to their competencies in business law and international private law. Wealth, professorships, access to grand judges and prominent positions in large law firms would benefit only latter generations.

Martin Domke (1892-1980) was born 1892 into an assimilated Jewish family in Berlin, he attended there the Gymnasium and then the Law school. He volunteered in the army in August 1914 and returned to civil life only in November 1918 (Eastern front, Steel cross). During the 1920s he became a successful business lawyer and a rich book collector married to a novelist. Entries into his diary mention nice places where he stayed, like Luzern, Lugano, Partenkirchen, Salzburg or Bornholm. In July 1933 however he his expelled from the Berlin Bar and he moves to Paris, where he lives close to the Champs de Mars. He loses his German nationality in 1937 and volunteers in 1939 in the French army. He arrives in New York in July 1941, aged 49, and starts again a new career by joining the American Arbitration Association and an adjunct-Professor at NYU Law School in 1950. For decades, he then moves way and back between Europe and the US and transfers to America an experience and an emerging doctrine of arbitration that had been developed primarily in Continental Europe. He is also a fixture of conferences on arbitration and international private law and, we are told, a brilliant dancer at post-conference parties. The object of the present project is first to collect the remaining papers and archives of Martin Domke (i.e., copies of them, wherever the originals are). This would then feed into the coming book on the history of international commercial arbitration. But the main aim of this specific research proposal, depending upon the depth of material obtained, is to write a journal article and/or a broader essay in the form of an experimental biography.

The methodology of the project belongs to classic archival research : identification of sources, tracking of specific archival fonds, critique of texts.