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

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Historiographic Approaches to the Translation of Juridical and Political Thought in Colonial Contexts.
A Symposium in Legal and Intellectual History
Co-Organised by the Centre for the History of European Discourses (University of Queensland) and the Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington
To be held at the Monash Centre, Prato, Italy 20-22 April 2009
This symposium seeks to investigate the ways in which juridical and political ideas, forms and institutions moved across the space of Empire and were translated, adapted or transformed in their new colonial locations. Its key focus will thus be on the manner in which juridical and political discourses, already highly contextual in their European homelands, were reworked by administrators and jurists to fit often-unanticipated colonial circumstances.
Historiography is central to this investigation, in part because Europeans arrived with their own historiographies and senses of history, and in part because these have continued to play a key role in today’s debates over law and politics in colonial settings. One place in which historiographic inquiry has become central to legal and political discussion in recent years is with regards to the recognition of indigenous rights. This recognition has been closely shadowed (and occasionally informed) by a revisionist historiography concerned to locate such recognition within a moral history of the nation. Meanwhile, this historiography has itself come under scrutiny within a contextual ‘history of historiography’.
The work of the symposium will thus be circumscribed by two parameters. First, we are interested not only in the way in which the translations of law and politics played out, but also in the manner in which their effects were mediated by particular historiographies. How should we approach the investigation of this phenomenon? Second, the field of inquiry will have a trans-colonial or trans-oceanic historical focus. It is intended to investigate the ways in which particular ideas and forms migrated across different geopolitical and geojuridical contexts, changing as they went. Recent scholarship has recognised that a focus on national stories is too limited. There are, however, tensions to be dealt with between trans-colonial themes and the experiences of particular locations,.
Speakers are invited to address these issues by drawing freely from a wide array of legal-and intellectual-historical approaches, and using whatever empirical cases and materials they find useful for their purposes. Against the background of the overarching themes of the symposium,  topics that might be canvassed are:
  • The interacting roles of different genres of jurisprudence and forms of political thought in shaping the concept of the Crown and its powers in different colonial contexts;
  • The relation between moral, political and juridical constructions of the exercise of sovereignty;
  • The relations between imperial governments, local administrations, settler groups, and indigenous peoples, particular as these relations were mediated by legal doctrines and institutions;
  • The role of particular cultural-political discourses — on sovereignty, jurisdiction, evangelicalism, natural law, civilisation, ‘Britishness’ — in shaping cross-colonial legal and political cultures;
  • The role of different historiographic forms in creating the ‘sense of history’ accompanying the imposition of law and empire in colonial settings, including their role in the period of land-rights activism.
 Shaunnagh Dorsett and Ian Hunter

Titles, Abstracts and Papers

Prato Information

Program (doc/pdf)



Transpositions of Empire section

Prato Information

Prato The city of Prato is located in northern Tuscany only a short distance from Florence.   Please click here for a map of the city centre. &nb...

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