Beyond Property: Law and Land in the Iberian World, 1510–1850

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The project was initially hosted by the mpilhlt when it began in 2022. In January 2023, the project moved to the Leibniz Universität Hannover.

IberLAND explores the history of land tenure in a long-term and global perspective by focusing on the territories of the former Portuguese and Spanish empires in what has recently been labelled the Iberian world.

Seeking a maritime route to Asia in the late 15th century, the Iberian crowns of Portugal and Castile ended up, in little over a century, connecting diverse peoples and communities across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. In doing so, they for the first time transformed the questions of how to own and how to use land into an issue of global dimensions. While this age of discovery and colonialism has often been regarded as the first phase of the transplantation of European concepts of property from Europe to the non-European world, IberLAND seeks to disrupt this narrative by looking at the history of land tenure not as a process of diffusion from Europe to the world, but as a process of decentred legal innovation.

To do this, the project will move beyond the idea of property and focus on land relations to understand the sets of social relations established between people and land. This conceptual approach provides a way of combining social-historical, ethno-historical, and legal-historical research to observe how law was produced at the local level through the combination of practice and doctrine. To connect legal doctrines to local practices, the project’s analysis will focus on different sets of institutions that structured land relations in different places in the Iberian world. This conceptual and analytical framework will be applied to six case studies focusing on Mexico, Goa, Cape Verde, Spain, Brazil and the Philippines, enabling us to overcome the diffusionist mindset that has pervaded the study of law and empire. Moreover, it shifts the focus of the study of land tenure onto the multiplicity of norms and institutions that were simultaneously co-constructed across the Iberian world. De-essentialising the idea of property should influence future research in the fields of law, anthropology and history, and provide a radically decentred per-spective of law for a globally interconnected world.

The project has been awarded a budget of 1.9M euros over five years and enables the PI to build a team composed of one postdoctoral and four PhD researchers.

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