The Dynamics of Early Modern Colonial Laws and Legal Literature

chj-cnrs Manifestations scientifiques Conférence

Introductory Guidelines

During the last decades it has become increasingly visible that the construction of a legal history centered on the figure of Europe has become insufficient. Developments within global history, comparative law, and postcolonial studies have revealed the complexity of the historical processes of normative production, drawing attention to a diversity of agents, and knowledge that circulates beyond the borders of the Western world. Thus, the scope and range of legal history is broadened, changing the very configuration of the discipline. In this context, the so-called “overseas world,” its various forms of administration and normative specificities, have gained relevance, with special emphasis on colonial law.

This conference seeks to explore how legislative strategies of early modern colonial empires affected each other, what they had in common, and how colonial laws emanating both from Europe and the colonies themselves developed into different directions. Conference papers will look at early modern colonial legal experience of the empires and colonies in multiple contexts: medieval inheritance of ius commune and legal pluralism; early modern transformations of legal orders, such as the growth of police regulation; and, not least, the local colonial realities and normativities. The intellectual context and its materiality will be another focus of attention, since the circulation of books, agents, texts, and documents is fundamental to understanding how legal arguments where fabricated and, at the same time, entangled.

The conference is organized jointly by two projects, Comparing Early Modern Colonial Laws: England, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain (Academy of Finland, University of Helsinki) and Reading Law Glocally: Local Readings of Foreign Legal Literature in a Globalized World (Seventeenth to Early Twentieth Centuries) (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique / France, Ghent University, University of Helsinki, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid).

CoCoLaw’s primary interest is in written laws. Laws applied in the colonies partly followed the medieval tradition of ius commune and (as for Britain) common law. This was the case of most civil, procedural, and criminal law. However, law in the colonies also followed the latest legal trends, and the growth of police regulation did not leave colonies untouched. In fact, CoCoLaw claims that police regulation formed the essence of what we normally conceive as colonial law. CoCoLaw charts the growth of police regulation at both imperial, regional, and local levels. GLOCALLAW, in turn, seeks to understand the local readings of foreign legal literature in a historical long-run perspective (seventeenth to early twentieth centuries). The project evaluates the function of legal literature in the circulation of rules and concepts in legal practice, especially in the Americas.

Both organizing projects, CoCoLaw and GLOCALLAW, set colonial laws in a comparative context. The projects systematically compare early modern overseas legal orders and their use of police regulation / legal literature with each other.

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