Law as Politics in England and the Empire, ca. 1600–1830 (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2013 semester seminar led by Paul Halliday.

In part because English law operated in multiple forms—statute and common law, equity and civil law— it proved highly malleable as it interacted with new circumstances around the globe. New forms of property arose in North America and the Caribbean. In Tangier, English law encountered Portuguese law, and Jewish or Muslim litigants sued Christians. In Bengal, native courts persisted alongside English ones. Hybrid legal forms arose, generating novel social and political practices and ideas. Among other issues, this seminar considered the legal origins and constitutional forms of different colonies, plantations, and other imperial outposts. How did metropolitan and colonial legislation restrict or expand the work of courts and judges? What were the different legal statuses of Britons and non-Britons? Participants examined the distinct kinds of labor and explored varieties of property and the impact on English law of practices outside England. The seminar mixed readings in sources and recent scholarship with discussion of seminar members’ projects on these and related themes. One of the Center for the History of British Political Thought programs, it was intended for scholars of literature and political thought as well as history, with or without extensive experience in legal history.


Director: Paul Halliday is Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire (2010), among other works. His current projects include an examination of the material forms of judicial knowledge and authority in the eighteenth century and the role of judges in making the British Empire from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth.