CSSH has been host to an impressive gathering of essays on the cultural and historical aspects of law. During the last decade, we have published influential pieces on Islamic law, on states and their jurisdictions, on spaces beyond the law, on legal practitioners, criminals, police, and prisons. Below is a sampling:
Morgan Clarke, Neo-Calligraphy Religious Authority and Media Technology in Contemporary Shiite Islam (59/2: pp. 351-383)
Nandini Chatterjee, English Law, Brahmo Marriage, and the Problem of Religious Difference: Civil Marriage Laws in Britain and India (52/3: pp. 524-552)
Peter Beattie, The Jealous Institution: Male Nubility, Conjugality, Sexuality, and Discipline on the Social Margins of Imperial Brazil (53/1: pp. 180-209)
Pal Nyiri, Enclaves of Improvement: Sovereignty and Developmentalism in the Special Zones of the China-Lao Borderlands (54/3: pp. 533-562)
Padraic Kenney, “I felt a kind of pleasure in seeing them treat us brutally.” The Emergence of the Political Prisoner, 1865–1910 (54/4: pp. 863-889)
Guy Burak, The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Post-Mongol Context of the Ottoman Adoption of a School of Law (55/3: pp. 579-602)
Melissa Demian, On the Repugnance of Customary Law (56/2: pp. 508-536)
Ceren Ozgul, Legally Armenian: Tolerance, Conversion, and Name Change in Turkish Courts (56/3: pp. 622-649)
Victor Uribe-Uran, “Iglesia me Llamo”: Church Asylum and the Law in Spain and Colonial Spanish America (49/2: p. 446-472)
Katherine Hoffman, Berber Law by French Means: Customary Courts in the Moroccan Hinterlands, 1930–1956 (52/4: pp. 851-880)
Here we invite four CSSH authors—Judith Scheele, Daniel Lord Smail, Bianca Premo, and Bhavani Raman—to talk about law as a kind of evidence, one that tells us about other aspects of social life. In many of our best essays on law, it would seem that legality is shaped by something else, and the point of analysis is to understand how law interacts with a second or third factor. It might be gender, community formation, material culture, or ideas of power and truth. Often, law does not account for as much as it should. The analyst has access to a rich body of legal documents, but in treating them as evidence, it turns out that these materials point to (or belong to) discursive fields that are above the law, or beyond it, or that simultaneously call for and contradict legal decisions. The special relationship between legalism and other modes of interaction can be pervasive, even formative, without being easy to model or understand.
In short, much of society and history remains oddly adjacent to law. Law seems always to be set apart, no matter how intimately entangled it is with the rest of life. The inadequacy of legal procedures, and their necessity, is related to this distance, which is discernible in old archival records and in ethnographic observations of contemporary legal practice. Our four interlocutors agree, for instance, that law is a specialized activity, that it involves rule-making and breaking, and that, despite its enduring ties to government, law can develop against or apart from state institutions and their interests. Law insists on its own significance and, in many cases, makes disrespect for its protocols a punishable offence. Indeed, law’s priority—in the double sense of its importance and its basis in historical precedent—pushes the conversation toward problems of origin and grounding: when is law really law, what is it ultimately based on, and who can decide?
As always at CSSH, location in time/space determines how such questions are asked and answered.
Scheele, who works with Berber village law codes in colonial and contemporary Algeria, and Smail, who studies debt and dispossession in medieval Lucca and Marseille, form a natural pair. Although their cases are centuries and a sea apart, each is oriented toward a legal system that predates, or substantially departs from, the governmental logics of modern nation-states. Honor, good standing, and payment of debts are the subject matter of law, not physical punishment or the monopolization of violence. For both authors, attention paid to centralized states often blunts our understanding of what law is doing.
Premo, who deals with women’s access to courts in Spain’s American empire, and Raman, who studies the certification of legal documents and judicial testimony in British India, pursue law as it was implemented within colonial regimes. They focus on people who were not (yet) properly subject to law, who appeared in court on special terms, and whose credibility as witnesses was often in doubt. Qualities assumed to be inherent to women, or to persons of low and high caste, disturbed the logics of law and governmentality in ways the courts could not fully control or acknowledge.
The conversation that proceeds from these starting points is filled with brilliant and unexpected insights. We are invited to think of law as a field of mediating concepts that are variously expressed in objects (palm leaf manuscripts and websites), words (sworn oaths and public declarations), sensibilities (honor, humiliation, probity), and statuses (household head, slave, guest). We are asked to consider law as a vehicle of moral display, in which fines and damages are paid in a proud attempt to assert membership and social value. Law is compared to a coral reef, a body of materials sedimented and alive, growing and calcifying. The process, we are told, has an almost necessary relationship with formality, with texts, technicalities, and legitimating props, all of them weaponized in competitive attempts to impose the best, most authoritative forms of law. In the end, the conversation suggests that law falls prey, forever and inevitably, to its own reliance on authenticity, as its practitioners and subjects forge legal documents, swear false oaths, and bring their own extra-judicial values and social forms into the very heart of law.
Enjoy the exchange. And for full effect, consult the original arguments:
Judith Scheele, A Taste for Law: Rule-making in Kabylia (Algeria) (50/4: 895-919)
Daniel Lord Smail, Violence and Predation in Late Medieval Mediterranean Europe (54/1: 7-34)
Bianca Premo, Before the Law: Women’s Petitions in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Empire (53/2: 261-289)
Bhavani Raman, The Duplicity of Paper: Counterfeit, Discretion, and Bureaucratic Authority in Early Colonial Madras (54/2: 229-250)
Scheele: Although all four papers arguably address colonial contexts of some kind—or, in the case of Dan Smail’s paper, colonial narratives that are in fact found insufficient—my paper describes a kind of law that is not imposed top-down, but that is produced locally, within or beside or at times against the framework imposed (more or less effectively) by state law. This means dissociating law from the state; it also means seeing law as both more and less than simply an instrument of dominance and political power, or even just conflict resolution. We all know that people everywhere and at all times do not necessarily follow rules, that they use them, subvert them, ignore them, or are simply unaware of them; but in some cases they also set up their own, and see this act of rule-making as important in itself. “Sovereignty” here too might “simply come along for the ride,” but as in the cases described by Smail, it is not an explanation: for this, we need to pay attention to the content of the rules themselves, being careful not to project our own “hyper-statist” assumptions onto them.
In Kabylia, village law never aimed to govern people’s lives in all aspects, nor did it attempt to eradicate or even regulate all forms of violence; it rarely posed a fundamental challenge to Islamic law; it was always partial and changeable, and large parts of it were in fact turned inward, legislating respect for itself. Nor were these laws a straightforward expression of “communal will” or any other such fiction. Instead, they aimed to create villages as a moral space, and the amount of effort people clearly thought was needed to achieve this bears witness to the fragility of the notion of community itself. Kabylia has in fact long been integrated into broader regional currents of exchange. People were mobile, village membership changing, banishment and exile frequent. Each village, although it insisted on its particularity, was consciously part of a larger world, conceived to be made up of distinctive and partially autonomous moral spaces. In this it was perhaps not that different from Smail’s late medieval Mediterranean.
Parallels with his paper crop up in unexpected places. Smail argues that the growing apparatus of state coercion that developed in the late Middle Ages was not so much the result of a statist will to eradicate violence or monopolize it, but was driven by debt-collection motivated and financed by private individuals. Courts primarily imposed fines which often remained unpaid, and contumacy—resulting in more fines and temporary banishment, which in turn allowed for extra-legal peace-making—was banal. This strikes many chords with Berber customary law: here also, private vengeance was taken for granted and lay beyond the purview of village codes that merely attempted to keep it away from public space. Justice, in turn, was based on the imposition of fines; “punishment” of bodies was reserved for those who had nothing, i.e., nobody to stand with their property as their guarantor. Two things matter in this respect: one, the word “fine” itself seems to have had no one Berber or Arabic equivalent. Mostly the Arabic originals, where such exist, state simply that money “is on” (‘alay-hi) somebody, that he “pays” (yakhlaṣ), or that “the assembly takes” (ta’khudh al-jamāʿah) a certain amount. No formal distinction is made between what we would translate as “dues” (money to be paid at births, marriages, or funerals) and “fines,” although a clear line is drawn between “fines” payable to the village and personal “damages” (Arabic gharm, a term that can also mean debt). Full participation in village life, in any case, involved handing over money to the village chest at any life-changing event, and voluntary donations were common and encouraged. “Fines,” then, seem to have been conceived of not so much as a punishment, but as one aspect of village membership, which in any case was largely mediated through property transfers. Smail’s Marseille thugs who simply show up in court to pay fines for small injuries readily spring to mind.
Two, although most fines were relatively minor, they could in fact have a devastating effect. Full membership in the village and its assembly required house-ownership; house-owners were responsible for everybody under their roof. Refusal to pay even minor fines resulted in more fines, and, ultimately, in the confiscation of all one’s goods and its necessary corollary, banishment (or else, in some cases, forced labour for the assembly, which resulted in an equal loss of honour). In neighbouring Morocco, fines often took the form of compulsory hospitality extended to the village “notables” (ineflas), who would literally “eat up” the recalcitrant culprit until he ceased to exist as an autonomous householder. Conversely, in Kabylia, forced exile for serious transgressions required the destruction and consumption of all property. The exile’s house was “razed to the ground” or burnt, and his animals were slaughtered and eaten in a collective feast. As a preliminary step, in some villages, the tiles of the culprit’s roof were first taken off, literally uncovering his house and laying it shamefully bare: the rural equivalent perhaps of Smail’s public auctioning of female garments. In his examples, however, which involve a remarkably rich material culture, people seem to be able to bounce back more easily, hence perhaps the high frequency of “predation.” In Kabylia, the dispossessed did not bounce back, but dropped out, mostly to the cities on the coast, or the army. In both cases, it is fair to say though that “the culture of debt was a culture of honor, shame, and humiliation,” and that indebtedness, rather than peace or even social order, was the dominant idiom of justice in a socio-economic context that had long known markets, migration, and individual and alienable property rights.
Smail: Reading Judith Scheele’s fine article, I found myself thinking of qawânîn as legal analogues to speech acts: texts that are themselves actions. This is a powerful reminder that law acts in the world in many ways. Especially interesting to me was the chance to learn about the manner in which many Kabyle villages have chosen to publicize their law codes on websites. In medieval Europe, where people had to use different platforms to give voice to texts, it is not uncommon to find that polities had rules requiring that the law be spoken on an annual basis. In medieval Iceland, a new law speaker had to recite the corpus of the law as part of the ceremony marking his entry into the office. In communal Italy and elsewhere in medieval Europe, law’s ornamental quality is richly attested by the quality and beauty of the manuscripts containing books of statutes, not to mention the superabundance of the resulting books. Scholars have estimated that Italy alone has preserved some ten thousand redactions of statutes.
These books had both practical and symbolic dimensions. Where the latter is concerned, the local representative of distant royal power in later medieval Marseille was required to take the annual oath of office with his hands touching the city’s book of statutes. One of the extant books of statutes even includes a gorgeous illumination of the scene. Books of statutes preserved the good old laws, and were venerated for that reason, but alongside statutes we find plenty of new legislation, as Scheele also finds in Kabylia. New laws passed by princes or communes were typically recorded in Latin. By virtue of their novelty, the laws had to be publicized. Since it would have made no sense to share a Latin text with an audience consisting of peasants and artisans, each new law was translated into the vernacular. Criers or heralds then carried the text and proclaimed it throughout the jurisdiction, in villages and neighborhoods and at crossings and street corners.
It is an inside joke among medieval historians that you read laws like these not to find out what was banned so much as to learn what everyone was really doing. Sumptuary laws, especially those targeting clothing and dowry costs, have long served as the poster child for this academic mockery of toothless medieval legislation. We now know that sumptuary laws were enforced – more or less. People were fined for sumptuary violations in medieval Europe roughly as often as people are fined today for moving traffic violations, that is to say rarely, but not never. In this way, law making, in medieval Europe as in Kabylia, could serve indirectly as a form of revenue. It has long been assumed by medieval historians that medieval justice was as much a mechanism for state finance as it was a legal matter—this is one of the many ways in which law acts in the world. But I have never found this interpretation to be convincing, and I much prefer Scheele’s elegant formula according to which the payment of a fee was viewed instead as a sign of membership. Reading late medieval fiscal account books that registered the payments of hundreds of fines arising from condemnations by the criminal court, many of which were quite sizable, I often find myself marveling at the contemptuous ease with which individuals were able to pay off the fines. As this suggests, the ability to pay served as a public demonstration of the strength of one’s social capital, since kinfolk, friends, and patrons almost certainly chipped in to help someone pay the really sizable fines. In addition, we can safely assume that the payment itself was transacted in the full glare of publicity. In this way, the pursuit of distinction readily piggybacked on a transaction that at first blush appears to us to have been quite punitive. Following Scheele, we should approach these fines with different analytical frames in mind. For example, they might better be viewed as forms of potlatch or acts of conspicuous waste.
I have studied medieval European justice for many years. Having moved through the stages of bewilderment experienced by all who embark confidently on a study of the law only to discover that a concept that seems so familiar should prove to be so elusive, I have now arrived at what I call an ecological understanding of the law. According to this understanding, we should treat the law as a coral reef. In the analogy, individual laws and statutes are ever so many calicle-forming polyps, gradually assembling a structure that is both living and dead. Crucially, law’s reef acts as a habitat for an extraordinary diversity of practices and unintended functions that grow up in its nooks and crannies, including those alluded to above, such as status distinction, potlatching, symboling, community-making, sovereignty-building, and many others besides. Much of the confusion about the meaning of “law,” in this view, arises from an uncertainty about the scope of the word. “Law” can be thought of as embracing the entirety of the reef and its ecosystem. But we can also choose to limit its ambit narrowly to the polyps and calicles.
In the case of debt collection, the focus of the closing section of my article, the growth of consumer credit in medieval Europe, starting in the twelfth or thirteenth century, generated the need for state-sponsored debt collection services. We shouldn’t take this process for granted. As David Graeber has pointed out, it is not obvious that states should get into the business of protecting creditors from risk, since that is exactly what interest is for. But leaving aside this surprisingly thorny issue, the emergence of systems of debt collection created an entirely new micro-habitat that spurred innovative new forms. In a kind of knock-on effect, the presence of this micro-habitat accelerated the formation of essential legal institutions (such as courts and their personnel) and legal apparatuses (such as prisons and paper-mills). These innovations, in turn, generated their own affordances in a series of cascading and ongoing effects. My major conceptual goal in writing the article was to develop a model that would allow us to leave the state, and its putative intentions, out of the picture. To imagine that a thirteenth-century state understood what a prison was “for,” for example, would be akin to suggesting that the entire future ecosystem of a coral reef could be extrapolated from the very first polyps to arrive in shallow water. One of the many emergent affordances of debt collection, in fact, was the systematic humiliation of debtors, both through imprisonment for debt and the practice of predation of goods. This outcome could not have existed without the law itself—the actual statutes that governed the practice of debt collection. But the outcome was not even remotely “in” the law in some a priori sense.
Premo: As Dan Smail’s commentary leaves off, it momentarily shines a light on the sneaky issue of origins. The issue lurks around our articles on law like a burglar testing windows. Smail insists, bolstered by his intriguing article, that there was no necessary sequence linking the development of law and the rise of a Weberian state, either as a “colonial” entity seeking to civilize a vengeance-mad medieval world or a self-conscious “post-colonial” agent coercing bodies in order to assert sovereignty over them. The law in Marseille and Lucca did not demand jails as much as jails demanded law. Brick-and-mortar institutions such as prisons—alongside acts of summoning and disappearance, and the symbolic use of objects—generated the law as a state system, not the other way around. Smail’s article focuses our attention on one of those practices. Pointedly, it was not a practice of sanctioned bodily violence but rather the ritualized “predation” of possessions, meaning the collection of debts or fines. In the Spanish empire, such confiscations, which frequently took place together with pre-trial arrests, were called the “sequester of person and property” (secuestro de persona y bienes), a terminology that evokes the jailing of things. To jail things. This points beyond a merely material explanation of fines and confiscation, toward the symbolic importance of things to the law.
Judicial authority itself could be symbolically sequestered. In native villages of Spanish America, if conflict broke out around the election of indigenous officials who served as first-instance judges, one faction might physically confiscate the staff of justice and put it in jail, thus depriving the pretender to the bench of his competence over cases. Without the staff, there was no jurisdiction. Equally telling, many legal battles (including some of the marital conflicts I discuss in my article) revolved around the possession of the papers of the lawsuit. Since most law took place not in a designated court but in an exchange of papers long before or apart from a “trial” or “hearing,” holding on to the accumulated acts (autos) of the suits was a way of commandeering a case. Without the papers of a lawsuit, there was no standing to go to court.
I would propose that we should be careful in distinguishing what we regard as law from what our subjects saw as law. If, as Judith Scheele writes, “making law [w]as a special kind of practice,” we should ask “when” and “how so”? Our four articles suggest that law was made somewhere in the act of writing up the law, turning it into paper, posting it on church doors, flashing sheets stamped with a royal seal, or reading a summons out loud to illiterate or absent villagers. That is not to say that there were not verbal practices of justice or customary law that served as polyps in Smail’s coral ecosystem of law. Rather, it is to say that making one piece of paper “legal” and another something else—moral, or justice-oriented rather than law-oriented, customary as opposed to statist—was itself an act of legitimation crucial to the development of law. From my point of view, this act of legitimation, more than any institutional form of the state, is what makes colonial law colonial.
Scheele’s footnotes wade into the issue of whether the law is different from other kinds of norm-making or enforcement. She concludes that overly elastic definitions of “legal pluralism” that envelope multiple forms of social control disfigure the uniqueness of law as a specific kind of enterprise. My own article, which compares Spain and Spanish American conjugal conflict in the eighteenth century, underscores this point. I argue that women in Spanish colonial cities were among the first to make a distinction between loose, community justice and tight, state-centered law, and they did so as they turned to the civil courts for full lawsuits rather than peacemaking mediation. Many of these women pushed for alimony cases and domestic disputes to be written down, formalized, and heard through to sentencing rather than resolved in face-to-face encounters, with a brief stint in jail, or by other, “extrajudicial” means. When they did this, they separated the law from the world of community and domestic harmony, often asserting a “natural right” to sue that had not existed before, even as judicial authorities at times objected. That ordinary women from the colonies rather than women from the peninsular motherland led this shift to a more law-driven, state-centered understanding of justice challenges easy presumptions about the rise of the state in the so-called West.
In the Algerian case, Scheele notes that scholars have long dismissed qawânîn-based village law as somehow corrupted by its origins in colonialism. Because its earliest accepted rendering into writing was directed (with a few possible exceptions) by the French military government in Kabylia, twentieth-century scholars and colonial practitioners have discounted its “lawness.” Despite their abundance, the rules municipal bodies made were regarded as generating culture rather than law. Kabyle community law, in other words, was wrought in colonialism not because it was written down under French supervision, was statist, or was soaked in the blood of physical violence. It was colonial because the circumstances of its writing permitted later observers to dismiss it as something disingenuous and separate from the ordering logic of law. They held Kabyle rules up to a standard of authenticity assumed to exist already in Western European law and found Kabyle law, in a word, counterfeit.
Bhavani Raman observes that in Madras the legally counterfeit and the judicially duplicitous were key to the consolidation of colonial rule under the British. The arbitrary imposition of colonial law was made rational by the very process of “recordation.” Corrupt practices of village and district officers served as a racialized foil: colonialism demanded the devolution of law and policing to local authority but it also made local police and practices suspect. This was how discretionary state legal authority was made to seem, by contrast, internally logical, never contradictory, and always fair and rule-bound. Above all else, the law of the colonizing West, like its state, was conceived of as original.
Raman: Bianca Premo perceptively points out that the question of origins lurks in our articles. Taken together, our papers show that the state does not originate in law. The state-system calls on law—to summon, make appear, disappear, capture—to act violently. But on what grounds does law become the indispensable alibi for the state? Premo argues that judicial authority is symbolically materialized in things. Possessing the staff of justice or legal paper makes law, while also providing the means for appearing before the law. When taken away, sequestered, appropriated, these potent symbols of law re-organize judicial authority. I would propose, furthermore, that materialization of language/words—by writing, sealing, posting, stamping—makes law official and amenable to the state.
The language of law is officialized in that ultimate act: the signature. The signature is at once symbol, referent, and action. It inserts the body in law. The act of signing does not merely record. When performed in a ritually controlled manner, it acts upon the world. The signed document creates a subject and a state bound by law. In this manner, the law appears to its subjects by means of the signature, and in that moment of appearance, the signature hierarchically orders the relationship between rulers and the ruled. Where and how you sign is crucial, yet even while a signature orders, performs, and makes context, it cannot serve as an absolute point of origin. It is iterative like all writing. It can be forged or infelicitous. This is one reason perhaps why the early colonial state was preoccupied with counterfeit paper and wily litigants in South India. As I found in my research on signature practices in the region, the moral panic about the authenticity of the signature simultaneously exposes and sutures the crisis that surrounds the origins of judicial authority. The conventions of signature seek to control the iterability of writing. Official preoccupations with the signature show that it is efficacious only under certain circumstances. These circumstances left their trace in a string of authenticating conventions—sealing, swearing oaths, witnessing, and counter-signature that frame the written signature. Premo is right to note that colonial law is that which deems all that is outside of itself convention or “customary.” But this disavowal of convention is paradoxical because the distinction between colonial law and convention often rested on the signature secured by conventions of attestation.
Because judicial authority is made by conventions of attestation, it is necessarily ongoing and prone to periodic collapse. Conventions of attestation can straddle but also be thrown into a crisis by changes in technology. The change from palm-leaf to paper, then from paper to the digital in our own time, comes to mind. Authenticating palm-leaf operates on a different logic from paper. A scribe using a stylus would incise a mark or scratch on palm leaf. The authenticity of the transaction depended on the appropriate invocation of phrases, the status and credibility of witnesses, and the collective memory of the signature event. Insignia and stamps were more commonly used to sign paper transactions. Sometimes handprints would be taken, as examples from Bengal show. But in most cases, commoners were not called upon to sign for themselves. Only royal or sacred authorities left a personal impress on documents as a sign of their person. Scaling up paperwork can also trigger crises. Officializing procedures can be mimicked in ways that deface judicial authority. Appropriation can create moral panic or alternative meaning-making that cannot easily be controlled. As the officials of the colonial state in Madras found, it was impossible to discern exactly when their subjects were committing perjury or forging signatures. But equally, the state could not differentiate itself easily from its copies. The Madras Government periodically panicked when its officials discovered that government seals, signatures, and paper were being counterfeited.
Legal scholars and scholars of colonial studies discern a clearly articulated sense of difference between British law and native custom. I have suggested that such distinctions conceal some of the ways in which law and convention, British and Indian, entangled with each other to create an enduring crisis of authenticity, and hence, a crisis of origins for the state in law. What sorts of labor then are required to harness law to the state? Colonial law was entangled with the norms and beliefs that were brought to its doors. It is in this context that we might reconsider how legal arenas are constituted. To appear before the law as a proper, consenting subject requires great effort. In early colonial South India, the colonial courtroom invited new subjects. But often women, working castes, and slaves were not considered credible witnesses, an indication of how colonial law was fully capable of absorbing existing social norms in South India. Thus, even if the hierarchical ordering of subjects was not explicit in the language of the law, the conventions of the courtroom and the office—the protocols of attestation, the construction of evidence, the mobilization of claims, the ability to use English—made up the freighted world of law. The uneven terrain of law and governmentality was not acknowledged by the courts but is visible in every aspect of their procedure.
Judith Scheele is a social anthropologist and Humboldt Research Fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. She has carried out research in Algeria, northern Mali and Chad. Her publications include Village Matters: Knowledge, Politics and Community in Kabylia (2009), Smugglers and Saints of the Sahara: Regional Connectivity in the Twentieth Century (2012), and various related papers and articles. She has co-edited (with James McDougall) Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa (2012), (with Fernanda Pirie) Legalism: Community and Justice (2014) and (with Paul Dresch) Legalism: Rules and Categories (2015).
Daniel Lord Smail is professor of history at Harvard University, where he works on deep human history and the history and anthropology of Mediterranean societies between 1100 and 1600. His current research approaches transformations in the material culture of later medieval Mediterranean Europe using household inventories and inventories of debt collection from Lucca and Marseille. Among other subjects, he has written on the practice of compulsive hoarding. His books include Legal Plunder: Households and Debt Collection in Late Medieval Europe (2016); with Andrew Shryock and others, Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present (2011); On Deep History and the Brain (2008); and The Consumption of Justice: Emotions, Publicity, and Legal Culture in Marseille, 1264-1423 (2003).
Bianca Premo is associate professor of Latin American history at Florida International University. She is the author of over a dozen articles and book chapters on colonial Spanish America, as well as books including The Enlightenment on Trial: Ordinary Litigants and Colonialism in the Spanish Empire (Oxford, 2017) and Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima (UNC, 2005).
Bhavani Raman is Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Toronto. Her research interests focuses colonial state, bureaucracy and textual practice. Her first book, Document Raj: Scribes and Writing in Early Colonial South India (Chicago University Press 2012 and Permanent Black, India, 2015), studied how colonial paperwork reorganized orientations to writing in Southern India’s Tamil speaking region in the early nineteenth century. Her current research is on the jurisprudence of security in the frontier regions of South and South East Asia. She has also begun to research how ideas concerning Tamil culture were shaped by transnational migration in the twentieth century. Social Science Research Council and the American Institute of Indian Studies have supported her research.