Legal dynamics and legacies within imperial formations

6. Juli 2022

The three-day conference ‘Legal histories of empires’, convened at the University of Maynooth, Ireland, from 29 June to 1 July 2022, was the third meeting of a conference series gathering scholars interested in the history of the legal dynamics and legacies unfolding within imperial formations from the beginnings of colonial modernity to the post-colonial era. Numerous researchers from our institute and former guests were also involved in the conference. Among the scholars attending the conference were also recipients of scholarships granted by mpilhlt to researchers based in the Global South and covering travel and visa expenses, accommodation and the conference participation fee.

After a first conference held in Singapore in 2012 and a second conference in Barbados in 2018, the meeting in Maynooth focused on the theme ‘Beyond the pale: legal histories on the edges of empires’. The ‘edges’ refer to frontiers, borderlands, maritime zones and negotiated spaces in various imperial frameworks. The investigation of legal practices and developments related to these peripheral spaces sheds light on the complex interplay between the law and issues of conquest and colonisation, race and religion, mobility and control, and citizenship and nationhood. The wide array of presentations at the conference interrogated the local and transnational implementation of common and civil law, constitutional and company law, international and intellectual property law, and land and martial law. These practices were examined in a number of imperial structures including the British, Iberian, French, German, Italian, Belgian, Dutch, North American, Russian and Ottoman Empires.

The variety of legal perspectives and the broad range of case studies related to diverse colonial and imperial contexts enabled presenters to generate a collective discussion about common themes of interest. These themes included legal borrowings and transplants, transfers from imperial territories to the metropoles instead of the reverse, relations between conquerors and Indigenous peoples, connections between the corporate form and racial capitalism, Anglicisation of law and the relevance of legal biography.

Updates on the next ‘Legal histories of empires’ conference will be posted by the organisers on

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