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Lauren Benton (historian)

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Lauren Benton


Lauren Benton (historian) httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

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Lauren Benton (born 1956) is an American historian known for her works on the history of empires, colonial and imperial law, and the history of international law. She is Dean of the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University, where she is the Nelson O. Tyrone, Jr. Professor of History and Professor of Law.



Lauren Benton was born in 1956 in Baltimore, Maryland, and attended high school at the Park School of Baltimore in Brooklandville, Maryland. She graduated from Harvard University in 1978, with a concentration in economics. Benton received her Ph.D. in Anthropology and History from Johns Hopkins University in 1987.[4]   She served as Dean for Humanities and as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, where she was Professor of History from 2003 to 2015 and Affiliate Professor of Law from 2008 to 2015. In 2015, Benton joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University as Dean of the College of Arts and Science and as the Nelson O. Tyrone, Jr. Professor of History and Professor of Law.

Benton’s early scholarship focused on culture and economic development. Her book Invisible Factories: The Informal Economy and Industrial Development in Spain examined industrial restructuring and the “informal sector,” or underground economy, in Spain during the transition to democracy of the 1970s and early 1980s.[5] Benton also co-edited a volume with Alejandro Portes and Manuel Castells on the informal sector in comparative economic development.[6]

Benton radically changed the focus of her research with Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900, which mapped a novel perspective centered on the study of jurisdictional conflicts in colonial societies. Introducing the term “jurisdictional politics,” Benton analyzed the impact of jurisdictional tensions on global legal regimes, colonial state formation, and the rise of the modern international order.[7] In 2003, Law and Colonial Cultures was awarded the World History Association Book Award[8] and the James Willard Hurst Book Prize.[9]

Benton continues to write on law and global change, especially on topics related to imperial sovereignty, maritime law and piracy, the legal history of abolition, and the history of international law. 

Her book A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 showed that empires did not seek to control vast overseas territories but instead used various legal practices to claim and rule a patchwork of enclaves and corridors. A Search for Sovereignty introduced the term “legal posturing” to describe attempts by imperial agents, including pirates, to show that they were serving the interests of sovereign sponsors. The book also traced the influence of legal conflicts in European empires on definitions of sovereignty and other elements of early international law.[10]

Rage for Order: The British Empire and the History of International Law, 1800-1850, which Benton coauthored with Lisa Ford, appeared in 2016 and uncovers a vast project of global legal reform in the early nineteenth century. Benton and Ford introduce the terms "middle power" and "vernacular constitutionalism" in tracing the efforts of mid-level imperial officials and others to reimagine and remake the imperial constitution. The book also analyzes the way imperial law prefigured international law and the rise of the interstate order.

Published works

  • Lauren Benton; Lisa Ford (3 October 2016). Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800–1850. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674737464.
  • Lauren Benton; Richard J. Ross (22 July 2013). Legal Pluralism and Empires, 1500-1850. NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-0818-8. 
  • Lauren Benton (30 November 2009). A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400–1900. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-78271-6. 
  • Lauren Benton (2002). Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-00926-3. 
  • Lauren A. Benton (1990). Invisible Factories: The Informal Economy and Industrial Development in Spain. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-0223-8. 
  • Alejandro Portes, Manuel Castells, and Lauren Benton, eds., The Informal Economy: Studies in Advanced and Less Developed Countries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).
  • Selected Articles

     “Empires and Protection: Making Interpolity Law in the Early Modern World,” with Adam Clulow, Journal of Global History, 12:1 (2017: ): 74–92.

     “Legal Encounters and the Origins of Global Law,” with Adam Clulow, in Jerry Bentley, Sanjay Subrhahmanyam, and Merry Wiesner-Hanks (eds.), Cambridge History of the World, 2015, Vol. 6 Part II, 80-100.

     “This Melancholy Labyrinth: The Trial of Arthur Hodge and the Boundaries of Imperial Law,” Alabama Law Review (2012): 100-1222. 

    "Possessing Empire: Iberian Claims and Interpolity Law," in Saliha Bellmessous, ed., Native Claims: Indigenous Law Against Empire, Oxford University Press (2011):19-40.

    “Abolition and Imperial Law, 1780-1820,” Journal of Commonwealth and Imperial History, 39:3, (2011): 355-374.

    "Toward a New Legal History of Piracy: Maritime Legalities and the Myth of Universal Jurisdiction," International Journal of Maritime History XXIII, 1 (2011): 1-15.

    “Acquiring Empire by Law: From Roman Doctrine to Early Modern European Practice,” with Benjamin Straumann, Law and History Review 28:1 (2010): 1-38.

    “From International Law to Imperial Constitutions: The Problem of Quasi-Sovereignty, 1870-1900,” Law and History Review 26:3 (2008): 595-620.

    “Legal Spaces of Empire: Piracy and the Origins of Ocean Regionalism,” in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 47:4 (2005): 700-724.

    "From the World Systems Perspective to Institutional World History: Culture and Economy in Global Theory." Journal of World History 7:2 (1996): 261-95. 


  • 2003 World History Association Book Award
  • 2003 James Willard Hurst Prize
  • References

    Lauren Benton (historian) Wikipedia

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