July 23, 2013
Governed from capitals in Europe and the British Isles, empires may have seemed to function as monolithic entities. But, in fact, legal pluralism was of vital importance to colonial powers, NYU’s Lauren Benton and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor Richard Ross write in Legal Pluralism and Empires, 1500-1850 (NYU Press).
“Many empires assembled political communities boasting divergent constitutional traditions,” Benton, dean of NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science and a professor of history, and Ross observe. “Such pluralism often grew more complex in colonies and far-flung peripheries as administrators and settlers dealt with indigenous, enslaved, and conquered peoples. The resulting legal orders encompassed multiple zones with unstable and varied relationships to one another and to imperial centers.”
The edited volume highlights new dimensions of legal pluralism in the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Ottoman empires, covering such topics as the shifting legal privileges of corporations, the intertwining of religious and legal thought, and the effects of clashing legal authorities on sovereignty and subjecthood. The work’s case studies illustrate how a variety of individuals engage with the law and shape the contours of imperial rule.
Benton’s previous works include A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 and Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900.