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The relationship between law and empire has been a fraught one and the subject of intense academic scrutiny. In this workshop, we will explore various strands in the literature by examining the role of law in the context of the British Empire. Was law “the state’s emissary,” a tool of resistance or something more complicated altogether? We will focus on the structure of legal systems in the British Empire, the role played by law in the construction of colonial societies, and the circulation and contestation of legal concepts within the empire.

The workshop is divided into three main parts. In the first, introductory session, we will focus on three big picture issues: a brief history of the rise of British imperial power, a discussion of the “rule of law” justification of empire, and an introduction to the main theoretical debates on the role played by law in colonialism. A majority of the sessions of the workshop are dedicated to specific issues: sovereignty; race and slavery; crime and punishment; religion, custom and identity; gender and sexuality; and the legal profession. In these sessions, we will focus on the relationship between law and these areas of social life. The final session will be dedicated to decolonization, where we will discuss both the role played by law in the process of decolonization in the mid twentieth-century and the contemporary relevance of “law and empire.”

This workshop has no pre-requisites and is open to all students.

For more information and workshop materials, visit: https://canvas.harvard.edu/courses/33953


October 12, 2017
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


Priyasha Saksena
Graduate Program


WCC 3015