Dana Rabin, The University of Illinois | Newberry

Dana Rabin, The University of Illinois

Friday, February 6, 2015

3-5 pm

Towner Fellows’ Lounge

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Seminar in British History

“The Rights of Man and the Mutinies of 1797”
Dana Rabin, University of Illinois

The book project, Under Rule of Law: Britain and its Outsiders, 1750-1800, argues that although the rule of law has long been celebrated as a signature English achievement, its ideology and practice was the consequence of imperial contact in the eighteenth century – and specifically contact with other cultures and peoples at home in England. As the empire expanded, encompassing ever-greater cultural, religious, ethnic, and racial variation, the law strained to contain and maintain these differences, sometimes plainly contradicting equality before the law. My study reveals a destabilized metropole: far from a beacon of light or a consistent, predictable standard-bearer, London - wracked with conflict - localized, focused, and concentrated all of the divisions and contested identities of empire. I examine the law as a technique deployed to impose a fictional and elusive coherence and fixity on the center of a diverse empire. Inspired by a long historiographical tradition that argues that law was made by those who contested it, my study features a series of internal others whose challenges revealed the law’s fragmentation and self-contradictions. I show that in contrast to rule of law or equality before the law, the English legal process re-inscribed distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender, and class, and so helped constitute the ideology of rule of law – a national solution to the problem of empire. The history of the rule of law thus becomes a social and cultural history of imperial encounters at home in the eighteenth century.

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org.  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.