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Law and Empire


Admission requirements



In the past years there has been a revival of interest in the place and function of law in the formation of European colonial empires overseas. Early encounters with hitherto unknown people of the Americas forced Europeans at an early stage to the consider the legal status of those people in their realm, which resulted in reflections on social hierarchies and colonial relations; Competition among European Companies led to formulation of international laws regarding claims on land and sea; the administration of justice formed an essential element in the colonial state formation processes of the 18th and 19th centuries, whereby European and local legal systems got intertwined and specific forms of legal pluralism developed; Furthermore the colonial court formed an arena of encounters between the colonial state and local society, where socio-political relations were negotiated. In this literature seminar we will review a number of recent contributions to the debates on the development of colonial legal systems and international law and place this in the context of the larger field of colonial and global history.

Course objectives

Students familiarize themselves with the various approaches to the theme of law and empire and learn to place these studies in the context of the field of colonial and global history. They will learn how to analyze and contextualize a historical discussion and learn how to reflect on this by writing reviews and giving presentations.


See here.

Mode of instruction

Literature seminar.

Assessment method

Students will be required to

  • write short essays weekly

  • make an oral presentation

  • write a review essay



Reading list

Anthony Pagden, The fall of natural man : the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology (Cambridge, 1987)

Peter Borschberg, Hugo Grotius, the Portuguese and free trade in the East Indies (Leiden, 2011)

Lauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 (Cambridge, 2009)

Selected chapters from:

Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in question : theory, knowledge, history (Berkely 2005)

Lauren Benton, Law and colonial cultures : legal regimes in world history, 1400-1900 (Cambridge 2002)

Elizabeth Kolsky, Colonial Justice in British India: White Violence and the Rule of Law (Cambridge 2010)

  • one title to be announced


Via uSis.

Contact information

E-mail: Mw Dr. A.F. Schrikker