A Search for Sovereignty approaches world history by examining the relation of law and geography in European empires between 1400 and 1900. Lauren Benton argues that Europeans imagined imperial space as networks of corridors and enclaves, and that they constructed sovereignty in ways that merged ideas about geography and law. Conflicts over treason, piracy, convict transportation, martial law, and crime created irregular spaces of law, while also attaching legal meanings to familiar geographic categories such as rivers, oceans, islands, and mountains. The resulting legal and spatial anomalies influenced debates about imperial constitutions and international law both in the colonies and at home. This study changes our understanding of empire and its legacies and opens new perspectives on the global history of law.
Lauren Benton is Professor of History and Affiliate Professor of Law at New York University. Her book Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900 (Cambridge, 2002) won the Law and Society Association's James Willard Hurst Book Prize, the World History Association Book Prize, and the PEWS Book Award from the American Sociological Association, Political Economy of the World Systems Section.
1. Introduction: anomalies of empire; 2. Treacherous places: Atlantic riverine regions and the law of treason; 3. Sovereignty at sea: jurisdiction, piracy, and ocean regionalism; 4. Island chains: military law and convict transportation; 5. Landlocked: colonial enclaves and the problem of quasi-sovereignty; 6. Conclusion: bare sovereignty and empire.