The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Contested Histories Seminar


Centre for the History of European Discourses
University of Queensland

Natural Law, Common Law, and Sovereignty:
European constructions of jurisdiction
in Colonial New South Wales

presented by

Professor Ian Hunter

Date:                    Thursday, 17 May 2007
Time:                   4-6pm
Venue:                 CCCS Seminar Room, Forgan-Smith Tower, level 4  (access via the elevator or the stairs at the base of the tower).
European political and jurisprudential traditions play a key role in current attempts to come to terms with the dispossession of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and the establishment of a colonial state and settler society. Some argue that jurisdictional doctrines associated with territorial sovereignty played a key role in dispossession, while others argue that early modern natural law doctrines provide a resource for conceptualising this dispossession as an infringement of Aboriginal rights by illegitimate acts of state. This paper contends that the close alignment of such arguments with current moral and political campaigns makes it difficult for them to engage with the actual use of doctrines of natural law, common law, and sovereignty in colonial New South Wales. Rather than providing the intellectual architecture for conceptualising exemplary extensions of sovereignty or illegitimate infringements of natural rights, these doctrines were weapons of convenience in a dispute between settler groups and the imperial government, through which the conflict with Aboriginal groups was mediated.
Ian Hunter is the deputy director of CHED and one of Australia’s leading intellectual historians.   His books include Rival Enlightenments: Civil and metaphysical philosophy in early modern Germany (CUP, 2001); Heresy in Transition: Transforming ideas of heresy in medieval and early modern Europe (co-ed., Ashgate, 2005); and The Philosopher in Early Modern Europe: The nature of a contested identity (co-ed., CUP, 2006)He has recently co-edited Christian Thomasius: Essays on church, state, and politics, with Thomas Ahnert and Frank Grunert (Liberty Fund, 2007), and he has a forthcoming monograph on the same author: The Secularisation of the Confessional State: The political thought of Christian Thomasius (CUP).  In addition to his work on the history of early modern political thought, he is continuing work on a project devoted to the ‘history of theory’ in the humanities academy, a project which has recently seen a collection of essays published in Postcolonial Studies, and which will shortly see another collection published in Culture, Theory and Critique.
A draft of the paper is available. This will be spoken to at the seminar without being read in full. Those wishing to read the full version can obtain an electronic copy from Michael Ure, contact:
For further information and updates on the series, please visit the CHED web-page:
or contact Dr Michael Ure,
Postdoctoral Research Fellow,
Centre for the History of European Discourses,
University of Queensland,
QLD        4072

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