Professor Lauren Benton
The Vernacular Constitution: Law and Information in the British Empire, 1800-1850
In the early nineteenth century British Empire, a vast project of imperial legal reform depended on the production of new knowledge about colonial law. Scandals around the empire generated disorganized legal stories about petty despotism; commissions of inquiry dispatched from the center sought a more systematic approach to gathering information about law; and colonial officials called for local investigations to probe the workings of plural legal orders.
On occasion the mania for legal reform produced "legal panics" in which serial interventions in colonial administration produced crises of order. The multiple modes of legal inquiry and the many facets of reform comprised a vernacular imperial constitutionalism and shaped an emerging vision of British global order. This talk draws on examples of these phenomena from a forthcoming book by Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford (of the University of New South Wales).
Professor Lauren Benton is Silver Professor and Professor of History, Affiliate Professor of Law, and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University. Benton’s research focuses on the comparative legal history of empires. Her books include A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900 (Cambridge, 2002), which was awarded the World History Association Book Award and the James Willard Hurst Book Prize. Her most recent book is a coedited volume with Richard Ross, Legal Pluralism and Empires, 1500-1850 (2013). Benton received her A.B. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. She is currently working on a book with Dr Lisa Ford about legal politics in the British Empire in the early nineteenth century.
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