Origin and History of MUNs

One big question that must have crossed every MUNer’s mind has to be about the Origin and History of MUN. How did it come into picture and what led to its ever growing adoption at almost all prestigious universities and esteemed colleges amongst the most extraordinary students with the most brilliant minds. Regulars at MUN would vouch for fact that it has shaped and moulded their lives, choices and opinions in more ways than one.

The beginnings of MUN, or student discussions are often linked to the rise in the use of the case study method at Harvard. It can be argued that, what is known today as the case study method was used in a primitive form at Harvard Law School (since 1870), while its Business School mastered the use of the method in 1920, incidentally the same year as the League of Nations was founded.

Therefore, it’s safe to say Model UN was pioneered as a series of Model League of Nations simulations led by students. Today, some Model United Nations conferences include simulations of the League of Nations among their committee offerings.

The first international student MUN debate?

At Harvard Crimson,1923, student led meetings and conferences directed at conducting
meaningful discussions of international relations of the day known as “International Assembly” were introduced and it can be defined as the start of an era of world going global and students being percipient of world around. The tradition of more or less structured and organized MUN student discussions find its roots here.

Student representatives of 15 different nationalities came together to discuss about topics like “The status of the island of Rhodes” and “The international traffic in opium”. The Secretariat allocated an hour of debating time to both the topics of concern respectively.

In a letter from Frank B. Baird, Jr (the secretary) the following is said about the International Assembly:

“It was modelled after the League of Nations, various students being selected to represent the different countries. It held debates on current events. One debate was either on the Reparations Problem or the Occupation of Ruhr, with the French and German Delegates participating. The German delegate was a graduate student at the university and also an instructor in German. The public was invited to these debates. “

Several years after the foundation of UN, the first student simulations and conferences came into picture. The first Model UN conference organised in 1949 at St. Lawrence University was initiated by Dr. Harry Reiff, Head of the History and Government Department. The conference was attended by delegates coming from regional conferences and universities, like Adelphi, Alfred, Champlain, Clarkson, McGill, Middlebury, Potsdam, St. Michael’s, and Vermont. Other Model UN conference followed suit at Berkeley (1952), Harvard (1953) and the Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN), and National MUN NY and many more In recent times, MUN has rapidly taken on to spread to East and South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Ivy League Model United Nations, an arm of the Model UN at the University of Pennsylvania, hosts conferences for high-school-aged delegates in India and China, as well.

— Aakriti Kharola (TYBBA G002)

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