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Slavery and the Law in Atlantic Perspective: Jurisdiction, Jurisprudence, and Justice

  • Rebecca J. Scott

The four articles in this special issue experiment with an innovative set of questions and a variety of methods in order to push the analysis of slavery and the law into new territory. Their scope is broadly Atlantic, encompassing Suriname and Saint-Domingue/Haiti, New York and New Orleans, port cities and coffee plantations. Each essay deals with named individuals in complex circumstances, conveying their predicaments as fine-grained microhistories rather than as shocking anecdotes. Each author, moreover, demonstrates that the moments when law engaged slavery not only reflected but also influenced larger dynamics of sovereignty and jurisprudence.

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1. Davis, Natalie Zemon, “Judges, Masters, Diviners: Slaves' Experience of Criminal Justice in Colonial Suriname,” Law and History Review 29 (2011): 925–84.

2. Ghachem, Malick W., “Prosecuting Torture: The Strategic Ethics of Slavery in Pre-Revolutionary Saint-Domingue (Haiti),” Law and History Review 29 (2011): 9851029.

3. For an astute examination of the question of potentially divided sovereignty as it emerged in civil suits for freedom in the Spanish colonies, see Premo, Bianca, “An Equity against the Law: Slave Rights and Creole Jurisprudence in Spanish America,” forthcoming in Slavery and Abolition.

4. Jones, Martha S., “Time, Space, and Jurisdiction in Atlantic World Slavery: The Volunbrun Household in Gradual Emancipation New York,” Law and History Review 29 (2011): 1031–60.

5. I am indebted to Ferrer, Ada for this formulation. See her essay, “Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic,” forthcoming in the American Historical Review.

6. Scott, Rebecca J., “Paper Thin: Freedom and Re-enslavement in the Diaspora of the Haitian Revolution,” Law and History Review 29 (2011): 1061–87.

7. On anthropological understandings, see the discussion in Davis, “Judges, Masters, Diviners.” For a recent discussion of the philosophical dimensions of the question, “What is law?” see Shapiro, Scott J., Legality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011). On expanding the scope of the study of law and slavery, see Gross, Ariela, “Beyond Black and White: Cultural Approaches to Race and Slavery,” Columbia Law Review 101(2001): 640–90.

8. Ghachem, , “Prosecuting Torture,” 987.

9. de la Fuente, Alejandro, “Slaves and the Creation of Legal Rights in Cuba: Coartación and Papel,” Hispanic American Historical Review 87 (2007): 659–92.

10. Gross, Ariela J., “Race, Law, and Comparative History,” Law and History Review 29 (2011): 549–65.

11. This phrase is used in the prologue to Scott, Rebecca J. and Hébrard, Jean M., Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, forthcoming 2012).

12. The text in question is Article 6, Chapter 1 of Decreto No. 151, April 11, 1842, reproduced in Section 33a, Part 2, of Collecção das Leis do Imperio do Brasil 5, 1842. The scholarship on illegal enslavement in Brazil has burgeoned in recent years, nourishing a political debate about impunity and state complicity in injustice. See, for example, Grinberg, Keila, “Re-escravização, Direito e Justiças no Brasil do Século XIX,” in Direitos e Justiça no Brasil: ensaios de história socialI, org. Lara, Silvia Hunold and Mendonça, Joseli Maria Nunes. (Campinas, Brazil: Editora Unicamp, Centro de Pesquisa em História Social da Cultura, 2006), 101–28; Sidney Chalhoub, “The Precariousness of Freedom,” unpublished essay, forthcoming, cited with permission; and Beatriz Gallotti Mamigonian, “O Estado Nacional e a Instabilidade da Propriedade Escrava: A Lei de 1831 e a Matrícula dos Escravos de 1872,” forthcoming in Almanack Braziliense On the potential contemporary political implications, see the presentation before the Brazilian Supreme Court by historian Luis Felipe de Alencastro in 2010, published under the title “O Pecado Original da Sociedade e da Ordem Jurídica Brasileiras,” Novos Estudos CEBRAP (São Paulo) 87 (2010)

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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