HIST 4716 Law and Empire in Early America

October 22, 2020

HIST 4716 Law and Empire in Early America (also 6716) (HPE) (HPE, HGS)

Thursday: 2:40-4:35 (online)

Professor Casey Schmitt

European empires used the law to justify colonialism and project sovereign authority over distant territories. But the legal regimes imposed by imperial centers on colonial peripheries were jurisdictionally complex, overlapping, and contested by colonial actors on the ground. This course explores the role of law in the context of colonialism and imperialism in the Americas, ca. 1490 to 1800. We will consider the transmission and transformation of legal thought and practice throughout the Atlantic world, with a specific focus on the role of law in shaping racial identities, gender norms, imperial competition, and the ultimate unraveling of empires in the Americas. The course will examine the different legal regimes, from Roman civil law to English common law, that shaped societies in the Americas. And we will pay particular attention to actors in colonial spaces—from self-liberated Africans to European smugglers—who manipulated the complexity of imperial legal regimes to suit their own needs, shaping the trajectory of American history from the bottom-up in the process.

Image attribution:  Jean-Adolphe Bocquin (French lithographer, fl. 19th cent.);  Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Lasalle au Mississippi Attribute: Jean-Adolphe Bocquin (French lithographer, fl. 19th cent.); printed by Lemercier & Cie, Paris., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons