2014-15 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History | Newberry

2014-15 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History

“The Will of Don Miguel Damián,” Xochimilco, 1576. Newberry Vault oversize Ayer MS 1900

“The Will of Don Miguel Damián,” Xochimilco, 1576, Newberry Vault oversize Ayer MS 1900. Click to enlarge.

Meanings of Justice in New World Empires: Settler and Indigenous Law as Counterpoints
Friday, October 10, 2014

9 am to 5 pm

Towner Fellows Lounge

Organized by Brian Owensby, University of Virginia, and Richard J. Ross, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History

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 than 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.


8:30 Coffee and continental breakfast

9 Welcome

Brian Owensby, History, University of Virginia, and Richard J. Ross, Law and History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

9:05 to 10:40 Panel 1: Constructing Native Elites and Indigenous Jurisdictions, 16th-17th Centuries

“Learning From the Qadi: The Jurisdiction of Local Rule in the Early Colonial Andes”

Karen Graubart, History, University of Notre Dame

“Reclaiming the ‘República de Indios:’ Colonial Indigenous Agents in the Production and Enforcement of Law”

Alcira Dueñas, History, Ohio State University

“The ‘Darling Indians’: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Crisis of Virginia’s Native American Elite”

Bradley Dixon, History, University of Texas at Austin

Commentator #1: Sherwin Bryant, History, Northwestern University

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

Chair: Richard Ross

10:40 to 10:55 Refreshment break

10:55 to 12:30 Panel 2: Native and Settler Legal Understandings, 17th-18th Centuries

“Defending and Defrauding the Indians: John Wompas, Legal Pluralism, and the Sale of Indian Land”

Jenny Pulsipher, History, Brigham Young University

“Between the ‘Old Law’ and the New: Local Justice and Indian Jurisdiction in Colonial Oaxaca, Mexico”

Yanna Yannakakis, History, Emory University with Martina Schrader-Kniffki, Romance Languages, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

“Dialoguing with Barbarians: What Natives Said and Europeans Responded in Eighteenth-Century Portuguese-America”

Tamar Herzog, History, Harvard University

Commentator #1 and Chair: Stuart Banner, Law, University of California, Los Angeles

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

12:30 to 1:50 Lunch break

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

“Now and Then: Status, Custom, and Modernity in Indian Law, Spanish America, 18th Century”

Bianca Premo, History, Florida International University

“‘Since We Came out of this Ground’: Treaty Negotiations and Indigenous Legal Norms in 18th-Century North America”

Craig Yirush, History, University of California, Los Angeles

Commentator: Daniel K. Richter, History, University of Pennsylvania

Chair: Brian Owensby

3:05 to 3:30 Refreshment break

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

“Species of Sovereignty: Native Claims-Making and the Early American State”

Gregory Ablavsky, Law and History, University of Pennsylvania

“Protection, Jurisdiction, and Interpolity Legalities in the Atlantic World”

Lauren Benton, History, New York University

“Royalism and Liberalism among Pasto Indian Communities”

Marcela Echeverri, History, Yale University

Commentator #1 and Chair: Fred Hoxie, History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Commentator #2: Emilio Kouri, History, University of Chicago

Faculty and graduate students of Center for Renaissance Studies consortium institutions may be eligible to apply for travel funds to attend CRS programs or to do research at the Newberry Library. Each member university sets its own policies and deadlines; contact your Representative Council member in advance for details.

Cost and Registration Information 

This program is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration in advance is required. Papers will be precirculated electronically to registrants.

This program is currently full, but we are keeping a wait list. Complete an online registration form to be added to the list.