2014-15 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History

Meanings of Justice in New World Empires: Settler and Indigenous Law as Counterpoints

Understandings of justice differed among New World empires and among the settlers, imperial officials, and indigenous peoples within each one.  This conference will focus on the array of meanings of justice, their emergence and transformation, and the implications of adopting one or another definition.  Our emphasis is less on the long-studied problem of the ethics of conquest and dispossession as on the notions of justice animating workaday negotiations, lawsuits, and assertions of right.  To this end, we are interested in the following sorts of questions: What about pre-contact legality and about European debates about law impelled empires to offer indigenous people access to settlers’ courts and legal remedies?  How did indigenous notions of legality shape natives’ resort to settlers’ law?  How and why did it occur to Indians that European law offered them a tactical opportunity?  To what extent did indigenous litigants and communities see law as a moral resource?  In what ways did Indians misconstrue settler’s legality because of their own preconceptions about justice?  How did indigenous recourse to law shape colonial and imperial legal structures?  These questions invite reflection on how settler law became intelligible—tactically, technically and morally—to natives. 

From the Europeans’ point of view, settlers thought about their own legal order by reference to highly stylized depictions of natives’ law.  Sometimes indigenous legality was treated as an example of primitivism, or savagery, or the work of the devil; sometimes as an honorable system appropriate to the social situation of Indians; sometimes as a precursor to imperial law; sometimes as reminiscent of legal systems in European antiquity or in other non-Western societies; and sometimes as an early stage in the Scottish Enlightenment’s four-stage theory of socio-legal development.  How did indigenous law serve as a contrast that helped settlers legitimate, critique, and understand their own legal system?  Conversely, in what ways did the example of settler law occasion debates about the meaning of justice within native communities?  The conference will bring together law professors, historians, and social scientists to explore how settler and indigenous law acted as counterpoints within and across European New World empires.

Brian Owensby (University of Virginia History) and Richard Ross (Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Law and History) organized “Meanings of Justice in New World Empires: Settler and Indigenous Law as Counterpoints.”  The conference is an offering of the Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History, which gathers under the auspices of the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library in Chicago in order to explore a particular topic in the comparative legal history of the Atlantic world in the period c.1492-1815.  Funding has been provided by the University of Illinois College of Law. 

Attendance at the Symposium is free and open to the public.  Participants and attendees should preregister by contacting the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library at 312-255-3514, or send an e-mail to renaissance@newberry.org.  Papers will be precirculated electronically to all registrants. 

For information about the conference, please consult our website at http://www.newberry.org/symposium-comparative-early-modern-legal-history or contact Professor Richard Ross at Rjross@illinois.edu or at 217-244-7890.

Program and schedule:

9:00 Welcome: Brian Owensby (University of Virginia, History) and Richard Ross (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Law and History)

9:05 to 10:40 Panel: Constructing Native Elites and Indigenous Jurisdictions (16C-17C)

Karen Graubart (Notre Dame, History): “Learning From the Qadi: The Jurisdiction of Local Rule in the Early Colonial Andes”

Alcira Dueñas (Ohio State, Newark, History): “Reclaiming the ‘República de Indios:’ Colonial Indigenous Agents in the Production and Enforcement of Law”

Bradley Dixon (University of Texas, Austin, History): “The ‘Darling Indians’: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Crisis of Virginia’s Native American Elite”

Commentator #1: Sherwin Bryant (Northwestern, History)

Commentator #2: Karen Kupperman (New York University, History)

Chair: Richard Ross (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Law and History)

10:40 to 10:55 Refreshment Break

10:55 to 12:30 Panel: Native and Settler Legal Understandings (17C-18C)

Jenny Pulsipher (BYU, History): “Defending and Defrauding the Indians:  John Wompas, Legal Pluralism, and the Sale of Indian Land”

Yanna Yannakakis (Emory, History): “‘False justice’ (‘justicia xihui’)? Colonial Law and Indian Jurisdiction in Highland Oaxaca, Mexico”

Tamar Herzog (Harvard, History): “Dialoguing with Barbarians: What Natives Said and Europeans Responded in Eighteenth-Century Portuguese-America”

Commentator #1 and Chair: Stuart Banner (UCLA, Law)

Commentator #2: Robert Morrissey (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, History)

12:30 to 1:50 Lunch: Participants and audience members are invited to try the restaurants in the   neighborhood around the Newberry.

1:50 to 3:05 Panel: Indigenous Legal Ideas in the 18C

Bianca Premo (Florida International, History): “Now and Then: Status, Custom, and Modernity in Indian Law, Spanish America. 18th Century”

Craig Yirush (UCLA, History): “‘Since We Came out of this Ground’: Treaty Negotiations and Indigenous Legal Norms in Eighteenth-Century North America”

Commentator: Daniel Richter (University of Pennsylvania, History)

Chair: Brian Owensby (University of Virginia, History)

3:05 to 3:20 Refreshment Break

3:20 to 4:55 Panel: Native Law and the Long 19C

Gregory Ablavsky (University of Pennsylvania, Law and History): “Species of Sovereignty: Native Claims-Making and the Early American State”

Lauren Benton (New York University, History): “Protection, Jurisdiction, and Interpolity Legalities in the Atlantic World”

Marcela Echeverri (Yale, History): “Liberal Experiments and Indigenous Citizenship in New Granada, 1810-1814”

Commentator #1 and Chair: Frederick Hoxie (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, History)

Commentator #2: EmilioKourí (University of Chicago, History)

5:00 Adjourn