Diane Kirkby and Catherine Coleborne

Law, History, Colonialism

The Reach of Empire

Manchester University Press 2011

New Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books Network February 7, 2012 Dhara Anjaria

English common law is prevalent across large parts of the world; and all thanks to the British Empire. It was not just culture and...

English common law is prevalent across large parts of the world; and all thanks to the British Empire. It was not just culture and commerce that came along to the colonies; English law, as Diane Kirkby and Catharine Coleborne‘s new book, Law, History, Colonialism: The Reach of Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011) demonstrates, made the trip as well, and it was English law that was used to combat many a ‘barbarous’ (or simply inconvenient) native custom.

Of course it didn’t go unaltered; English law interacted with local customs and laws, resulting in ‘legal syncretism’ as local laws were modified and codified and set down in statutes; they dealt with title to land, sovereignty, citizenship, and also more everyday things like whom one could marry, where one could trade, and how one could go about getting an education.

Many of these statutes and codes remained in operation throughout decolonization and after and yet endure; legal systems are perhaps one of the strongest continuities between the colonial and the post-colonial state. So this is a very welcome work, analyzing as it does the space where law, history (historiography) and colonialism intersected and engaged with each other.

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