Political Personhood in the Early Modern British World before 1800 (symposium)

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Sponsored by the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought

Scheduled for Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday, September 19 – 21, 2019

How does the complex history of how a person is defined shed light on contemporary conceptions of subjectivity, individuality, and citizenship? This symposium gathers invited speakers to open conversations on test cases involving the political philosophy and lived reality of personhood in early modern Britain, Europe, and the Atlantic World. Sessions will consider political personhood in relation to subjecthood and identity; legal rights and responsibilities; dual allegiances; enslaved people; commonwealths and commerce; petitions and protests; and the relationship between human and non-human beings. Scholars from history, legal studies, literature, philosophy, and art history whose work considers these issues are encouraged to apply.

Organizers: The Steering Committee of the Center for the History of British Political Thought: Sharon Achinstein (The Johns Hopkins University), David Armitage (Harvard University), Julia Rudolph (North Carolina State University), and Nigel Smith (Princeton University).

Program: A plenary presentation with Lauren Benton (Vanderbilt University) and Paul Halliday (University of Virginia) on Thursday evening will be followed by two days of sessions. Invited speakers include Amanda Bailey (University of Maryland), Kathy Brown (University of Pennsylvania), Urvashi Chakravarty (George Mason University), Alison Games (Georgetown University), Kinch Hoekstra (University of California at Berkeley), Daniel Hulsebosch (New York University), Hannah Weiss Muller (Brandeis University), Noémie Ndiaye (University of Chicago), Mary Nyquist (University of Toronto), Geoff Plank (University of East Anglia), Philip Stern (Duke University), Robert Travers (Cornell University), Phil Withington (University of Sheffield), and Sue Wiseman (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Applications for Folger Institute consortium grants-in-aid must be received by 10 June 2019.

Provisional Schedule

Unless otherwise specified, all sessions take place in the Foulke Conference Room

Thursday evening, 19 September 2019

5:00 pm:Welcome

Owen Williams (Folger Institute)
A Short History of Early Modern Political Personhood
Lauren Benton (Vanderbilt University)
Paul Halliday (University of Virginia)

6:30-7:30 Opening Reception (Founders Room)

Friday, 20 September 2019

9:00 am Coffee and pastries (Foulke Conference Room Lobby)

9:25 Call to Order Owen Williams (Folger Institute)

9:30 Legal Personhood

Daniel Hulsebosch (New York University)
Mary Nyquist (University of Toronto)

11:00 Coffee Break

11:30 Non-Human Rights and Personhood

Amanda Bailey (University of Maryland)
Geoff Plank (University of East Anglia)

1:00 pm Lunch on your own (suggestions provided in folders)

2:30 Petitions and Protest


Robert Travers (Cornell University) Sue Wiseman (Birkbeck College, University of London)

4:00 Break

4:15-5:45 Cosmopolitan and Inter-Imperial Personhood


Alison Games (Georgetown University) Noémie Ndiaye (University of Chicago)

Saturday, 21 September 2019

9:00 am Coffee and Pastries

9:30 Subjecthood


Kinch Hoekstra (University of California at Berkeley) Hannah Weiss Muller (Brandeis University)

11:00 Coffee Break

11:30 Slavery/Enslaved People/Servitude


Kathy Brown (University of Pennsylvania) Urvashi Chakravarty (George Mason University)

1:00 pm Lunch on your own (suggestions provided in folders)

2:30 Commonwealths & Commerce


Phil Stern (Duke University) Phil Withington (University of Sheffield)

4:00 Break

4:15 Reflections

5:30-7:00 Closing Reception (Founders Room)