2005-06 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History

Membership in Communities and States in the Early Modern Atlantic World: Legal Rules, Social Judgments, and the Negotiation of Citizenship

Organized by Richard Ross, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, the linked processes of statebuilding and overseas colonization in the Atlantic world drew upon and helped transform inherited citizenship practices. This conference explores, in comparative perspective, the ways that communities, municipalities, organizations, and states in early modern Europe and the Americas identified their members, regulated participation, and adjusted burdens and opportunities. Colonial political and legal systems established forms of community and relations of domination unknown in Europe and confronted unprecedented racial and ethnic diversity. An array of statuses, including a variety of kinds of citizenship, helped define the political, civil, and economic rights of settlers, of European foreigners and religious and ethnic minorities, of indigenous populations, of Africans, and of “mixed race” peoples. Colonists and imperial administrators adjusted these statuses in order to attract or exclude settlers, manage dependent and forced laborers, and calibrate privileges in heavily regulated transatlantic trade systems.

The conference has two main intellectual ambitions beyond further integrating the domestic and imperial perspectives on early modern citizenship. First, by encouraging a comparative perspective, it hopes to enrich, and test, claims about the nature and causes of citizenship regimes made from within one national historiography. Second, the conference hopes to attract work inspired by recent efforts to move away from the traditional treatment of citizenship as a “category” or “status” defined by the state and extended at its discretion to particular classes of people. Historians and social scientists are increasingly thinking of citizenship rights as claims that, while grounded in law or social convention, were only made operative, reshaped, or denied through contingent negotiations in local institutions and communities. On this view, law served as a resource. It provided a repertoire of ill-defined, incomplete, sometimes contradictory rules and precedents that labeled the issues and values at stake in a dispute and could be mobilized to support a wide variety of positions. Yet the limits of the repertoire and the dissimilar appeal of its constituent elements worked to constrain and predispose negotiations about citizenship claims in local settings.

Panel 1: The Ideology of Citizenship: Strategic Identities

“Ties Unbound: Membership and Community during the Wars of Independence: The Thirteen North-American Colonies (1776-1783) and New Spain (1808-1821)”
Erika Pani, CIDE

“Becoming an Absolute Citizen: The Counter-Experience of France”
Peter Sahlins, University of California-Berkeley

“ ‘Political Culture’ and the Concept of Law as an Aspect of Early Modern Citizenship: Britain and Germany”
Mark Weiner, Rutgers University-Newark

Commentator 1: Amalia Kessler, Stanford University
Commentator 2: Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania
Chair: Bruce Smith, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Author-Meets-Readers Session

Tamar Herzog, Defining Nations: Immigrants and Citizens in Early Modern Spain and Spanish America (New Haven, 2003)

Reader 1: Sarah Chambers, University of Minnesota
Reader 2: Clare Crowston, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Reader 3: Kunal Parker, Cleveland State University
Reader 4: A. Gregg Roeber, Pennsylvania State University
Response: Tamar Herzog, Stanford University

Chair: Claire Priest, Northwestern University

Panel 2: Liberties and Loyalties in Transatlantic Context

“Treacherous Places: Atlantic Riverine Regions and the Law of Treason”
Lauren Benton, New York University

“A Tale of Two Unions: Nationhood and Citizenship in the Dutch Revolt and the American Revolution”
Douglas Bradburn, State University of New York-Binghamton

“Slaves, Strangers, and the Limits of Revolutionary Citizenship: The Jacobin Structure of Colonial Rule”
Miranda Spieler, University of Arizona

Commentator 1: Max Edelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Commentator 2: Rebecca Scott, University of Michigan
Chair: Richard Ross, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Panel 3: The Limits of Citizenship: Troublesome Peoples (Free Blacks, Jews, and Dependent Laborers)

“Colonial Manumission and the Citizenship Revolution in Saint-Domingue and British North America.”
Malick Ghachem, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Navigating Nationhoods: The Jewish Moment in the British Atlantic World, 1654-1831”
Holly Snyder, Brown University

“Citizens, Servants and The Great In-Between: Migration and Membership in Early Anglo-America”
Christopher Tomlins, American Bar Foundation

Commentator 1: William Forbath, University of Texas
Commentator 2: Margaret Somers, University of Michigan
Chair: Dana Rabin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign