My End-of-Term Reading List

By Krista Kesselring; posted 25 October 2016

I’d like to post a review or two, I really would; but this teaching term being what it is, and the mountain of marking looming over me being what it is,  I’ll post instead my end-of-term reading list, some of the books on legal topics that I have on order to read as a reward when the last exam is marked, the last essay graded, and the last class completed…

  1. Bradley Miller, Borderline Crime: Fugitive Criminals and the Challenge of the Border, 1819-1914 (University of Toronto Press, 2016)

I’ve been dipping into the history of extradition across the Anglo-Scots border in the early modern era as part of my broader project on homicide, so I’m curious to see what Bradley has gleaned from his research on extradition, even though he focuses on a different time and place. Besides, I knew him back when he was an MA student at Dal and I always enjoyed his work. Here’s the publisher’s description:

‘This is the first comprehensive history of cross-border Canadian-American interactions in relation to fugitive criminals, escaped slaves, and refugees. Miller examines the complexity of those interactions, which involved formal legal regimes governed by treaties as well as informal and extra-legal phenomena such as abductions and ground-level ‘customary’ co-operation between low-level officials. All of this is set against the background of a developing international law and evolving ideas about extradition in other parts of the British empire.’

  1. Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford, Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800-1850 (Harvard University Press, 2016)

Nothing needs to be said here beyond what’s already on the publisher’s site:

‘International law burst on the scene as a new field in the late nineteenth century. Where did it come from? Rage for Order finds the origins of international law in empires—especially in the British Empire’s sprawling efforts to refashion the imperial constitution and use it to order the world in the early part of that century.

Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford uncover the lost history of Britain’s global empire of law in colonial conflicts and bureaucratic dispatches rather than legal treatises and case law. Tracing constitutional politics around the world, Rage for Order shows that attempts to refashion the British imperial constitution touched on all the controversial issues of the day, from slavery to revolution. Scandals in turbulent colonies targeted petty despots and augmented the power of the Crown to intervene in the administration of justice. Campaigns to police piracy and slave trading linked British interests to the stability of politically fragmented regions. Dull bureaucrats dominated legal reform, but they did not act in isolation. Indigenous peoples, slaves, convicts, merchants, and sailors all scrambled to play a part in reordering the empire and the world beyond it. Yet, through it all, legal reform focused on promoting order, not advancing human rights or charting liberalism.

Rage for Order maps a formative phase in world history when imperial, not international, law anchored visions of global order. This sweeping story changes the way we think about the legacy of the British Empire and the meaning of international law today.’

  1. James Sharpe, A Fiery & Furious People: A History of Violence in England (Random House, 2016)

If Professor Sharpe’s earlier works weren’t already enough to make one look forward to this epic survey, the teasers and reviews popping up in the press would certainly do so. See, for example, the reviews in The Guardian or in The Economist, or the publisher’s description:

‘From the tragic tale of Mary Clifford, whose death at the hands of her employer scandalised Georgian London, to an account of the violent activities of Victorian Manchester’s scuttling gangs, via a character portrait of the duel-obsessed Cavalier Sir John Reresby, A Fiery & Furious People explores the brutal underside of our national life in all its variety. And as it considers the litany of assaults, murders and riots that pepper our history, it also traces the subtle shifts that have taken place both in the nature of violence and in people’s attitudes to it. Why was it, for example, that wife-beating could at once be simultaneously legal and so frowned upon that persistent offenders might well end up being ducked in the village pond? When did the serial killer first make an appearance in the annals of English crime? How could football be regarded at one moment as a raucous pastime that should be banned, and the next as a respectable sport that should be encouraged? What gave rise to particular types of violent criminal – medieval outlaws, Georgian highwaymen, Victorian garroters – and what made them dwindle and then vanish?

Throughout, Professor James Sharpe draws on an astonishingly wide range of material – court records and murder pamphlets, popular ballads and novels, sermons and films – to paint vivid pictures of the nation’s criminals and criminal system from medieval times to the present day. He gives a strong sense of what it was like to be caught up in, say, a street brawl in medieval Oxford or a battle during the English Civil War. And he also seeks to answer perhaps the most fascinating and fundamental question of all: is a country that has experienced not only constant aggression on an individual scale but also the Peasants’ Revolt, the Gordon Riots, the Poll Tax protests and the urban unrest of summer 2011 naturally prone to violence or are we, in fact, gradually becoming a gentler nation?’

  1. Graeme MacRae Burnet, His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016).

A work of fiction rather than history, true, but as The Guardian’s review of this Booker Prize finalist notes, ‘it’s a psychological thriller masquerading as a slice of true crime.’ Promising a ‘fiendishly readable tale’ of a multiple murder, the review goes on to say that ‘the book’s pretence at veracity, as well as being a literary jeux d’esprit, brings an extraordinary historical period into focus.’ As such, this seems a fitting addition to the end-of-term list.

5. John M. Collins, Martial Law and English Laws, c. 1500-c.1700 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

OK, this one doesn’t really belong here as I have actually managed to read it already; but I learned a lot from it, so I do want to put it forward as a suggestion for your own end-of-term reading list.  From the publisher’s page:

‘John M. Collins presents the first comprehensive history of martial law in the early modern period. He argues that rather than being a state of exception from law, martial law was understood and practiced as one of the King’s laws. Further, it was a vital component of both England’s domestic and imperial legal order. It was used to quell rebellions during the Reformation, to subdue Ireland, to regulate English plantations like Jamestown, to punish spies and traitors in the English Civil War, and to build forts on Jamaica. Through outlining the history of martial law, Collins reinterprets English legal culture as dynamic, politicized, and creative, where jurists were inspired by past practices to generate new law rather than being restrained by it. This work asks that legal history once again be re-integrated into the cultural and political histories of early modern England and its empire.’